Andy's Workshop

Game chat and stories along with some articles probably for the more geeky among us,
all written by me, Andy.

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Monday 13 May 2013

Five Step Plan V - The Players Strike Back

[As usual, all thoughts in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of the admins or members of Frontierville Express.]

Back in October of 2012 I wrote this post: Five Step Plan

It was my look from both sides of the fence at what I felt needed changing in the game, not only for players but also for Zynga, to promote new players and returning players.

Since I wrote that we've seen a number of new things and new changes, so I thought it was time to revisit what I wrote, add in a few things from another letter I aimed at Zynga and see where we were at.

DISCLAIMER: I'll repeat here what I said back then, this will probably not be perfect for everyone, because what we want and what Zynga want are different, and we need to find a middle ground.

Things like no requests or the ability to give away stuff to neighbours is unrealistic, because it harms Zynga's business, and we need to remember any game like this is expensive to run.

Apple bring out new iPhones every 3 weeks, sports teams suddenly need 9 alternate kits for varying situations ("this is our kit for playing on the second Sunday after a rainy Thursday in a month with a N in it") and Starbucks make you take out a mortgage if you want a blueberry muffin with that...

Companies try to make money, it's what they do. (It's at this point I'd like to guide you towards my extensive range of Andy Designed T-shirts at... No? OK then.)

On the other hand, Zynga probably wont like some of these suggestions either, but maybe it's time to get smaller slices of many pies, instead of big slices from few...

So, with expectations set to "achievable"... let's begin.

Step One: Players STILL Want to Play...

What has changed: It's been a while since we saw a "doncha want your letter?" item that we've HAD to click before starting the game, lets hope they stay away.

What's still relevant: Back along I pointed out the sheer frustration and boredom of trying to get into the game, and if anything it seems to be even worse these days.

We sit down, load up and... wait, and click, and wait, and click, and wait, and click...

Horseshoe popups, mission windows, builds... if we're interested enough to want to play, LET US! Spread those popups out throughout the game instead, and think about cutting back on ones that push people to finish missions or builds... We know they're there, and we're either doing them, so don't need reminding, or are ignoring them for a reason and don't WANT reminding...

The best games are smooth games, not ones interrupted by loading times popups or other distractions when all folks want to do is get into it... some are inescapable, but too many just kill our enthusiasm.

Step Two: Giving People What They Want

What has changed: Very little, we've seen a couple more HS Crops become coin.

What's still relevant: Free gifting is still an almost criminal misuse of the word "gifting". We don't send people what they want, we send people what WE want... and with the insane amount of gifting crops these days it leaves players, well ones who haven't filled their Facebooks (against FB rules) with hundreds of people they don't know, forever behind.

I recently came up with this idea for free gifting to make it more useful:

Whether it's technically possible or not, I don't know, but something can surely be done to let folks get what they NEED...

The two ideas from the previous Five Step Plan also stay relevant:

1) After 2-4 weeks, make free gift crops or animals available in the market for coins. We get at least one new free gift crop a week, standard players will always have to request something, and right now most players are stuck in the frustrating position of having to decide which they want, knowing they can't ask again until tomorrow.

They also know if they're a few missions behind, they're most likely to be "gifting" this crop to people who don't even want it. Giving someone something they don't want, that's not gifting.

2) We know those things that pop up in game are to make us gift. Problem is it's ALWAYS rubbish, breakfasts, crops we don't really need, broken things... Keep those gifting popups but make it something GOOD, remove the Level 100 limit from giving Dinners for example and put them in.

Gifting works best when we're giving people things we know they'll like. So make gifting really worth it with some great things to send that will make people happy.

Steps Three and Four - The changes...

What has changed: OK, here's where things start sounding good... arguably we've now HAD the compromise that clobbers both steps three and four into the stands.

With the recent news that the game is switching to one release a week (I think we can all agree the wrapper is part of that one release) then the amount of missions and, from that, requests is suddenly halved.

Well, we could do with less of the features people don't like, but right now, I think when it comes to mission and request amounts, we're seeing the most likely compromise and one that will help everyone.

What's still relevant: The one thing that IS still a concern isn't current players as much as it is FUTURE players...

Every game needs new players, people come, people go, it's always an organic process. However because of how our missions are it doesn't create a welcoming atmosphere. Get to level 20 and all of a sudden you've been inundated with almost every mission we've ever had... This is NOT going to make players stick around, well, none but the most dedicated.

It's mad because it's not how games work, and I've played a LOT of them in the *mumble-mumble* amount of years I've been playing games of one kind or another, missions beget missions, threads beget threads, we move through the game knowing with each level, or with each mission set we complete another one and thus we're guided through the game, never feeling overwhelmed or out of touch.

That's how NORMAL games work. The problem is, Pioneer Trail doesn't... and it's damaging in lots of ways.

People get overwhelmed far too early, with dozens of missions all piling on at the same time before they've really had a chance to understand the game. Where do they click, what do they click, how do they build this or boost that...

I can't even imagine starting the game now, it must feel like being put in a room with a million piece jigsaw and being told to put it together without a guide picture.

It also ignores the difficulties present for NEW players that old ones don't have. Where are they meant to put all the buildings for the missions? How are they meant to keep up when the best boosts are buried and not available to them without completing some of those missions?

So what can be done?

First off, levelling needs to be MUCH more sensible. The recent missions could easily be set to appear at level 80, even level 100. This would make the experience for new players much more similar to that which the long term players have had, getting missions over a period of time, not just all at once.

The second thing would be to thread missions in a more logical way. One of the best things for me is the storylines, but often they're broken and disjointed because we often get later "chapters" before we've finished the first one.

We can see Birdie getting engaged to Mae before we've even caught him, we can work on Jack's wedding to someone he met on a journey we haven't finished yet, heck for many Jack's still down a mine... They're all stories that we're reading like an arthouse surreal movie that tries giving us 10 timeframes in one go.

Why not thread these missions like we did in the old days, meaning players new AND old don't feel overwhelmed, let us wait to complete previous missions before getting new ones... Just as most other games do.

It's a MASSIVE start that we'll be having less missions from now on, but that's what it is, a start.

Step Five Four: Bigger Trolley

What's still relevant: This one is still pretty much ALL still relevant so I'm just going to Copy and Paste what I wrote before.

You knew it was coming, I knew it was coming, everyone reading knew it was coming.

Rationing is no fun, and what seemed, to begin with, to be a fairly generous gift allocation now hasn't changed in over two years, when the game itself has changed immeasurably.

When the game started and we had 50 clicks that was fine, a few mission requirements here, a few building bits there, for months we probably never hit 50 items we needed per day.

Now we're needing twice that many items just for one building requirement, and the restrictions that felt so generous 2 years ago feel so crushingly small now.

Let me plead the business case.

Most people don't continue to click after 50. Player after player are only getting one to two clicks on a post if it's something even a few days old, let alone the poor folks trying to catch up.

Giving people more clicks might still keep them being selfish and only clicking what they need, but at least it would get YOU more click statistics and more happy players. Happy players spend money, happy players get friends to play, happy begets happy...

We then come to the envelope, an even more unfair problem. By limiting the amount of items an envelope can hold you're making it a nightmare carnival game of luck to request items from neighbours.

After the first 50 gifts get through, BAM, nothing else. We only get to DR twice a day, most players will only take advantage of one of those... and you're standing there like a bouncer outside a busy nightclub saying however good we are, however much money we'll spend... the club is at it's limit and we can't get in.

Even worse, it's not that we can't get in until some leave, it's that we can't get in AT ALL and our request is dead. That item we need, one of far too many, we'll never get because 50 people got their first.

That, even more than clicks, is the cruellest cut, things we're sent, requests we make... poof, gone into the ether. This is a phrase often misused and often overused, but here I think it's apt;

It's just not fair.

Step Five (New): The Right Bra Size

We all need a helping hand now to be kept up where we should be, and right now the support situation is definitely not ideal.

Before I go too far into what needs to be changed back, lets just take a quick "Devil's Advocate" moment to see WHY Support has bombed so badly recently.

The main problem with Support has been abuse of the system, they're there to be tech support and cover for issues, but if we're honest for many it became more like a charity line.

Pages we now see bemoaning the lack of support were, not that long ago, taking the attitude that Support were there for any little foible and freebie we fancied. Support became somewhere to go if you couldn't be bothered finishing a mission, didn't feel like building something or, sometimes on the worst pages, just because they fancied a freebie.

There have been stories of people spending horseshoes deliberately and then contacting Support just to get them back and get the item for free, stories of people sending a ticket every 2-3 hours for the same issue, even people who contacted support EVERY DAY to get their clicks refunded.

With stories like that and the general "we deserve freebies" attitude that's come from some places there IS some logical understanding of why Support (an expensive setup) had started to become less than helpful.

First we saw them crack down by banning people who were guilty of abuse, becoming much more stingy with refunds and seeing a big cutback on Live Chat.

That was doable, understandable, excusable. It became harder for fair players who'd never abused support but it was still there.

Now though, it's almost impossible to get support when it's actually needed... and something does really need to be done.

I think a good start would be the return of the Support system from the spam-laden and generally complicated Player/Player support system back to the forums from whence they came.

The Forums worked well for support because not only did you have a collective of players who could and would help, but I'd imagine it was also better for Support Staff, threading people with the same complaints into one place, meaning a single answer can suffice, instead of having to individually answer dozens.

It's also so much more interactive, allowing people to really feel they're being helped, when too often on the Player/Player area the only answer is a nasty little spammer with a .tk address and a believable spiel about where to get support (something that's easier to control on the forums as well).

Secondly, as so many "I can't get Support" problems seem to be lost horseshoes why not have a specific online form to report that? It could then collate them all in one place for an agent to check through in one go. They could check to see if the item has been used, or if the person is a serial HS user and if they're ok to be refunded, hit a button and send them back.

I don't think people are even that bothered about getting a REPLY from Support when it comes to HS, just getting them back (or not) is all people really care about.

Good support, even just OK support is a big thing when it comes to customer satisfaction... and right now, folks are pretty uncomfortable.

The End

The changes we've seen since I wrote my original Five Step Plan have, I think, made the game better. They covered some of the points, made changes that almost totally wiped out two steps and have generally shown to everyone recently that they HAVE listened to players and taken notice of concerns.

But there's still a few things they may be able to make things even better, especially Free Gifting and a change to the missions to make new players more likely to STAY playing once they've found the game... because it's good enough to drag you in, but right now may not be good enough to keep you...

But... we've seen good changes so far this year, and that IS something we need to celebrate and gives us hope...


  1. Very well written for one thing, I have seen the changes, thats all good, thanks to you Andy, I am sure of that! Much still to be done though! I am happy they are slowing down on the Mission, I think people will stay in! I was very surprised to read the rip off by the people, I just never thought of anyone doing this (should have known better though) No wonder they cut us off....

    1. they need improve game better and remove old mission that people got where they couldnt do them due where they couldnt get in the game.zynag never fixes their problems of the game that why i quieted the game . they only problem they are is money hunger

    2. I would like for a confirmation question to be added when spending horseshoes. That way if you accidently click on a purchase you have the option of cancelling. They already have this in place if you sell an item and I think it would be a tremendous addition to purchases as well.

    3. I agree, having a confirmation when you click on a HS item would make it a lot easier and a lot less people claiming they did it by mistake. They already have the confirmation when you buy items, why not for those crop finish or other things that pop up?

  2. Thanks opened my eyes to some stuff I didn't know about ..I do click more than 50 times friends that need stuff I don't are doing great ..thanks again

  3. Good job, Andy. You covered some really important changes to help the player. Much appreciated. I have finally built up tons of friends who play, but experience the restrictions of helping them, or having them help me. Counter-productive. I think I can speak for myself and maybe others, that we like being able to be play when we want to play. Not planning time around when the resets happen. That's annoying! lol

  4. Not sure what the lingo is with some of the missions but they are the missions where you get to ask for items but on the same mission you have to create an item. You can also ask for items and it goes in to the list of: PT Friends, Recommended or Friends. But in the same mission you have to wait 5 hours sometimes to ask for a different item in that mission. Why can't they just open up the whole mission to ask for all the items needed? Am I making any sense? And speaking of missions, I have yet to get that silly assed Chocolate Lopper Bunny. Some people have gotten 2 or 3! In your words..."Not fair at all"