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EXECUTION Creating an online card game

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Hello, Fastlaners.

I'm glad to be back, I let the script kind get to me the past couple of months, but I'm making a comeback.

I'm using my last year in high school to try and build a product and monetize off of it.

For the past couple of months, my friend and I have been building an online multiplayer robot-themed card game: You can find it here!
The product development has been very end-to-end: We've had to play the role of front-end, back-end developer, web designer, product manager, game designer, admin, etc., which is one of the greatest pleasures you can have in Fastlane pursuits (and creative work overall). "Specialization is for insects"

Here is our roadmap so far:
- Developed the main fun-loop to get players hooked
- Programmed the server, web-client and database barebones
- Designed web-client
- Designed automatic authentication so new players don't have to signup and can automatically start playing
- Perfected multiplayer duels
- Bought domain-name, deploy to a production server and hosting service
- Design and code community dashboard including a lobby, chat and announcements
- Add progression to keep players engaged
- Code singleplayer duels against AI to get practice and keep players hooked even when there is not much activity
- Add a legendary card for players that signup during our testing phase (right now)

These are some key points to building a product I have learnt during the process

Focus on building a product, not writing code.
As programmers, we tend to focus too much on small optimizations and preferences. When building a product, however, none of that matters. What matters is the product. Code is not an asset, it's a liability. It takes up storage, it takes time and energy to write, it creates more bugs. Focus on working on features that get your product closer to being fit for the market, not writing code.

Focus on the one right thing
When developing for a launch phase, we focus on a set of ground-goals we create and do not change until we release. I have learnt to filter tasks to work on based on one question: "Is this really blocking launch for our next phase?" When you work on a project you have to be very selective about how you spend your time and energy. If we have a new idea we have to ask ourselves "Is this blocking launch?". If not, we move it to the "ideas" section and think about it more in our next phase.

Be willing to break some rules
For this game, we made some unique decisions for the architecture that would ordinarily not be normal in other products (We did this because we had the freedom to experiment and because we believed the rewards would be worth the risk.)
For example, Users don't need to sign-up: We create an account for them so they can start playing as soon as they reach the site, and we let them claim the account with their email whenever they want. We can also have as many users as we want because we don't have a database; we just set up a bucket that scales infinitely.

-
We are currently getting ready for our 2nd testing phase, where we open up the game to players and do some real-life stress testing: make sure what doesn't work, what needs works, what suggestions players have, etc.

After we go through this phase, I imagine the next steps will probably involve...
- Creating another fun-loop for singleplayer
- Creating "flow" to keep players engaged
- Creating some basic monetization system (Like donations and buying in-game money)
- Releasing new content regularly
- General marketing and spreading the game

Will continue to update

GLHF
 

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Rawseed

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Looks like an awesome plan. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend checking out the book, Hooked by Nir Eyal. It teaches you how to engineer retention and referrals.
 

Bertram

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Oct 25, 2015
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Hello, Fastlaners.

I'm glad to be back, I let the script kind get to me the past couple of months, but I'm making a comeback.

I'm using my last year in high school to try and build a product and monetize off of it.

For the past couple of months, my friend and I have been building an online multiplayer robot-themed card game: You can find it here!
The product development has been very end-to-end: We've had to play the role of front-end, back-end developer, web designer, product manager, game designer, admin, etc., which is one of the greatest pleasures you can have in Fastlane pursuits (and creative work overall). "Specialization is for insects"

Here is our roadmap so far:
- Developed the main fun-loop to get players hooked
- Programmed the server, web-client and database barebones
- Designed web-client
- Designed automatic authentication so new players don't have to signup and can automatically start playing
- Perfected multiplayer duels
- Bought domain-name, deploy to a production server and hosting service
- Design and code community dashboard including a lobby, chat and announcements
- Add progression to keep players engaged
- Code singleplayer duels against AI to get practice and keep players hooked even when there is not much activity
- Add a legendary card for players that signup during our testing phase (right now)

These are some key points to building a product I have learnt during the process

Focus on building a product, not writing code.
As programmers, we tend to focus too much on small optimizations and preferences. When building a product, however, none of that matters. What matters is the product. Code is not an asset, it's a liability. It takes up storage, it takes time and energy to write, it creates more bugs. Focus on working on features that get your product closer to being fit for the market, not writing code.

Focus on the one right thing
When developing for a launch phase, we focus on a set of ground-goals we create and do not change until we release. I have learnt to filter tasks to work on based on one question: "Is this really blocking launch for our next phase?" When you work on a project you have to be very selective about how you spend your time and energy. If we have a new idea we have to ask ourselves "Is this blocking launch?". If not, we move it to the "ideas" section and think about it more in our next phase.

Be willing to break some rules
For this game, we made some unique decisions for the architecture that would ordinarily not be normal in other products (We did this because we had the freedom to experiment and because we believed the rewards would be worth the risk.)
For example, Users don't need to sign-up: We create an account for them so they can start playing as soon as they reach the site, and we let them claim the account with their email whenever they want. We can also have as many users as we want because we don't have a database; we just set up a bucket that scales infinitely.

-
We are currently getting ready for our 2nd testing phase, where we open up the game to players and do some real-life stress testing: make sure what doesn't work, what needs works, what suggestions players have, etc.

After we go through this phase, I imagine the next steps will probably involve...
- Creating another fun-loop for singleplayer
- Creating "flow" to keep players engaged
- Creating some basic monetization system (Like donations and buying in-game money)
- Releasing new content regularly
- General marketing and spreading the game

Will continue to update

GLHF
What do you think of using Kickstarter to promote and launch your game?
 
OP
OP
Jonathan S.Diaz

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
What do you think of using Kickstarter to promote and launch your game?
I had not thought of that. The product has gotten pretty far, but we still don't have any players. At this point, we have to step away from engineering and just focus on
1. Making the game fun
2. Getting and engaging players
3. Getting feedback from players

I think a Kickstarter might be a good way to start getting players, as well as helping us with money for art and deployment costs.

We have not worked on high-impact tasks as we should be.

I think I'm going to open a thread for feedback on next steps.
 
OP
OP
Jonathan S.Diaz

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Update!

So far, we have been working on pretty minor stuff. We are not moving as fast as we should be.
At this point, we should be really working on high-impact tasks. I'm going to start minimizing code time to as minimum as possible and focus on tasks I can do without touching code.

If we can't get players to have fun, and come back, we fail. Our goals are:
1. Making the game fun. Give players an amazing experience.
2. Getting and keeping players
3. Getting feedback from players to keep making the game fun

To begin tackling these issues, I have to answer some questions...

As a player, What are some reasons why the game doesn't feel fun? What can we do?
- It has become too confusing.
- The design is too desolate & there is no theme.
- It doesn't feel rewarding to play.
- I don't know what to do or where to go.

How can I solve these issues?
- Simplify, simplify. We should have a single main menu screen and a maximum of 4 navigation links (like "Play", "Shop", "Profile" and "Card Collection"). Build a prototype for a new website design using Invision Studio.
- Begin building a world and theme. Pay some artists for a theme, backgrounds and card designs.
- Find out what events and screens I find most rewarding in other games and copy them into the new design.
- Create navigation guards and tips to help players find out where to go.

More feedback is appreciated from the community, as always. If you want to try out the game and provide feedback, you can do so from the browser at GearCaster

As a player, why don't I keep coming back to the game?
- The experience is not rewarding enough
- There is not enough content. There is no theme or events that keep the world fresh.
- There isn't enough "klout" behind the game

How can we make the experience more engaging based on this?
- Create a progression system to keep players engaged in gameplay. Daily rewards? Add visual/audio effects for duels
- Find an artist to create cards for us. Build a narrative/story for the world. Update players every time they get on the game with "events" like "daily reward" or "daily quest" or a battle "season"
- @Bertram mentioned creating a Kickstarter, which will also help with the financial aspect of development.

How do we make engagement with players easier?
- Let players directly mention the admins in the chat to report bugs or features
- Ask for feedback on some sort of forum

We might use these as general guidelines for next steps and goals.

Any ideas? Tips/advice? Feedback? I'm more than open to hear them from you guys

Will continue to update

GLHF
 

Bekit

Gold Contributor
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Aug 13, 2018
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Hey Jonathan. Awesome idea and great work so far!

I just tried the game. I love the fact that you don't have to register. But after a couple of minutes, I ran into a lot of problems that would keep me from trying again.

Note: I am NOT a gamer. But I like playing cards in real life. So maybe some of the problems I encountered are things that would be obvious to a gamer. But I got pretty lost.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to create a UX that will address the sticking points.

So here's a glimpse of what was going through my head as a brand-new visitor to your site.
  1. Cool, a card game? And you don't even have to register? I wanna play...
  2. Clicked on "Just let me play" and here we go. Can't wait to discover what this game is going to be like.
  3. Looked around the main page of the site. I see a chat log that's filled with posts like "testing" and "Hello world." Cool, no worries, I am aware that this is a startup thing. What I want to do is play the game.
  4. I see a button for starting a round. I don't see anything anywhere to learn HOW to play. I assume that if I click the button to start a game, I'll be taught how to play on my first time.
  5. I get into the game. I am Shadowy Watermelon playing against Purple Loquat.
  6. There's a countdown timer for "end turn." 3... 2... 1... my turn is over? Wait, I didn't even see my cards.
  7. Purple Loquat played, but I have no idea what they played or what it meant.
  8. Now it's my turn again. I have no idea what I'm looking at or how to figure out what to do. My countdown timer ran out again on me. I have not played yet. So I am just sitting here watching my time run out. This is no fun. When do I get to see my cards? It looks like I am looking at the backs of the cards. How do I turn them over to see what they're about?
  9. Purple Loquat played again. I still have no idea what they played or what that meant.
  10. It's my turn. Let me just click on something at random. I think I played something. But I have no idea what I did, what effect it had, or whether it was a good move.
  11. Purple Loquat played. Still have no clue what's happening. I want to get out of this, but I don't see a way to exit the round without exiting the tab.
  12. My turn. Now I see that there is a popup for each card when I mouse over it. But I don't have nearly enough time to figure out what's what before my time has run out again. I also notice that there is a play-by-play description happening on the right hand side of the screen. Looks like Purple Loquat is doing damage to me left and right. I'm losing and feeling negative feelings, like, "This is not fair. Where are the instructions anyway?"
  13. I went to a different browser tab and the game continued on to the end without me playing (because my turn timed out each time). Whatever.
  14. Now the game is over, but I don't have anything to click on. Looking around the screen, I can see that there are 3 cards at the top that I assumed were Purple Loquat's, but maybe those were "bots" that I could use? I have no idea what any of the symbols mean and no way to mouse over them and figure it out. There's nowhere to click other than the back button - no restart game option, no instructions button, just a notice that I lost the duel.
  15. I hit the back button to go back to the main page. Maybe I didn't look hard enough the first time to find the instructions. Nope, still don't see them anywhere.
  16. Looking at the card collection, I gained a tiny bit of insight. So I tried again. This match was against WisePlantain. This time I at least clicked on cards during my turn. I was just clicking at random, deploying cards. Some more action happened, but I still lost (in 12 turns instead of 7). Still have no clue what to do or how to discover what to do. So at this point I give up.
I think that offering instructions or a "demo" game where you're not playing against a ruthless AI would help people to get started. Letting people WIN their first few matches is a good way to get them hooked.

I also think that it would help if the game was not timed when people are just starting out. Let people have time to think through their actions. The speed will come.
 
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OP
Jonathan S.Diaz

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Hey Jonathan. Awesome idea and great work so far!

I just tried the game. I love the fact that you don't have to register. But after a couple of minutes, I ran into a lot of problems that would keep me from trying again.

Note: I am NOT a gamer. But I like playing cards in real life. So maybe some of the problems I encountered are things that would be obvious to a gamer. But I got pretty lost.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to create a UX that will address the sticking points.

So here's a glimpse of what was going through my head as a brand-new visitor to your site.
  1. Cool, a card game? And you don't even have to register? I wanna play...
  2. Clicked on "Just let me play" and here we go. Can't wait to discover what this game is going to be like.
  3. Looked around the main page of the site. I see a chat log that's filled with posts like "testing" and "Hello world." Cool, no worries, I am aware that this is a startup thing. What I want to do is play the game.
  4. I see a button for starting a round. I don't see anything anywhere to learn HOW to play. I assume that if I click the button to start a game, I'll be taught how to play on my first time.
  5. I get into the game. I am Shadowy Watermelon playing against Purple Loquat.
  6. There's a countdown timer for "end turn." 3... 2... 1... my turn is over? Wait, I didn't even see my cards.
  7. Purple Loquat played, but I have no idea what they played or what it meant.
  8. Now it's my turn again. I have no idea what I'm looking at or how to figure out what to do. My countdown timer ran out again on me. I have not played yet. So I am just sitting here watching my time run out. This is no fun. When do I get to see my cards? It looks like I am looking at the backs of the cards. How do I turn them over to see what they're about?
  9. Purple Loquat played again. I still have no idea what they played or what that meant.
  10. It's my turn. Let me just click on something at random. I think I played something. But I have no idea what I did, what effect it had, or whether it was a good move.
  11. Purple Loquat played. Still have no clue what's happening. I want to get out of this, but I don't see a way to exit the round without exiting the tab.
  12. My turn. Now I see that there is a popup for each card when I mouse over it. But I don't have nearly enough time to figure out what's what before my time has run out again. I also notice that there is a play-by-play description happening on the right hand side of the screen. Looks like Purple Loquat is doing damage to me left and right. I'm losing and feeling negative feelings, like, "This is not fair. Where are the instructions anyway?"
  13. I went to a different browser tab and the game continued on to the end without me playing (because my turn timed out each time). Whatever.
  14. Now the game is over, but I don't have anything to click on. Looking around the screen, I can see that there are 3 cards at the top that I assumed were Purple Loquat's, but maybe those were "bots" that I could use? I have no idea what any of the symbols mean and no way to mouse over them and figure it out. There's nowhere to click other than the back button - no restart game option, no instructions button, just a notice that I lost the duel.
  15. I hit the back button to go back to the main page. Maybe I didn't look hard enough the first time to find the instructions. Nope, still don't see them anywhere.
  16. Looking at the card collection, I gained a tiny bit of insight. So I tried again. This match was against WisePlantain. This time I at least clicked on cards during my turn. I was just clicking at random, deploying cards. Some more action happened, but I still lost (in 12 turns instead of 7). Still have no clue what to do or how to discover what to do. So at this point I give up.
I think that offering instructions or a "demo" game where you're not playing against a ruthless AI would help people to get started. Letting people WIN their first few matches is a good way to get them hooked.

I also think that it would help if the game was not timed when people are just starting out. Let people have time to think through their actions. The speed will come.
Hi @Bekit, thanks for the thorough and valuable feedback!
It makes me happy to see that you were happy about not having to sign up and that you could jump right in. Seeing what made you give up (being thrown against a ruthless AI out of nowhere) is annoying to me too. It shows we have failed in giving our users an experience worth coming back to by throwing you into a confusing mess. We are currently working on developing a practice mode (& story mode) that users will get to go through as soon as they sign up.

We also recognize that combat is very confusing. We have toned down a lot of information and are working on making it more intuitive.

I have no idea what any of the symbols mean and no way to mouse over them and figure it out. There's nowhere to click other than the back button - no restart game option, no instructions button, just a notice that I lost the duel.
That really must have been frustrating.. I think there needs to be a post-duel screen asap to show the results of the duel and rewards you get (and progression).

I also think that it would help if the game was not timed when people are just starting out.
GearCaster was designed to be a fast-paced game, but that can work against us when a new player comes on.

I also appreciate your points on navigation. I'm going to be sharing your feedback and using it to begin fleshing out and tailoring what the next phase of developing will look like.

Thanks again for giving GearCaster a test run and giving us your feedback, it's very valuable to us!
 

srodrigo

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Hi @Jonathan S.Diaz ! Good job, it looks like there's a good amount of work behind this. You seem to be going in the right direction.

I tried the game and I agree with @Bekit, I think having a "tour" game would be really helpful. I found it a bit hard to understand how the game works, and having a timer pressure made it a bit stressing. I liked the "combat cards" idea though.

The "play without bothering me with registering" is definitely a good thing.

About trying a Kickstarter campaign, it's worth studying the effort/benefit ratio. I've heard (can't confirm by myself) that running Kickstarter campaigns can become very time-consuming (as much as a full-time job while the campaign is running). But again, do your research, as it might pay off.

As your game is a combat cards game, you might be interested in having a look at Shadowhand and Ancient Enemy for inspiration. They're made by a tinny studio and they are now focused on this kind of card games. Unfortunately, I don't know of any other indies making this kind of games, so can't suggest more games to look at.

Good luck with user testing! :)
 
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Jonathan S.Diaz

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Hi @Jonathan S.Diaz ! Good job, it looks like there's a good amount of work behind this. You seem to be going in the right direction.

I tried the game and I agree with @Bekit, I think having a "tour" game would be really helpful. I found it a bit hard to understand how the game works, and having a timer pressure made it a bit stressing. I liked the "combat cards" idea though.

The "play without bothering me with registering" is definitely a good thing.

About trying a Kickstarter campaign, it's worth studying the effort/benefit ratio. I've heard (can't confirm by myself) that running Kickstarter campaigns can become very time-consuming (as much as a full-time job while the campaign is running). But again, do your research, as it might pay off.

As your game is a combat cards game, you might be interested in having a look at Shadowhand and Ancient Enemy for inspiration. They're made by a tinny studio and they are now focused on this kind of card games. Unfortunately, I don't know of any other indies making this kind of games, so can't suggest more games to look at.

Good luck with user testing! :)
Hey rodrigo! Thanks for the guide, Kickstarter and similar-games advice!
 
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Jonathan S.Diaz

Jonathan S.Diaz

Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Update! #2

Since the last update, we have recognized that we need to measure our success in terms of engaged players. We have spent too much time coding and the game looks like engineering olympics, where we do things for the sake of doing them.

I have gone with a complete redesign of the game which simplifies our design and includes a guide to help out new players. I will take the liberty of sharing the prototype with you guys here

This lead us to wondering if we should take the risk and completely rebuild this for mobile, since the total addressable market increases (mobile is the most popular game platform today if we measure by impact.) I've decided that before we make that jump I will build this new design on web first, and see if we can get more players engaged. We will have to continue to back-pedal on our decisions (get rid of the web, rebuild from scratch) until we don't have to anymore and get some traction.

Personally, I am in a tight place to be developing mobile games, since my computer runs at 4GB of RAM and I have no safety net (a job) and have to start saving up to move out.

For the next 6 days I will purely focus on this redesign on the web, which will be brutal, considering how big this overhaul is.

Next steps will probably include getting a remote job and getting a player-base on mobile.

Will continue to update soon,

GLHF
-John
 

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njord

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At first glance it looks like a real time fixed deck version of star realms. What im missing is what makes your game better then star realms, Magic The Gathering or any other online card game?

Why would anyone want to play this game?
What is the stratagy in the game?

And to be honest i must say the grafics suck (yes im a spoiled magic the gathering player)

I would also cut the countdown timer or at least incease the time so you have time to think or at least look at your cards right now its just a monkey press game (just press on random buttons till u win)

Goodluck!
 

Neng Her

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Growing up collectors card games like Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh were more than just a game. I hated playing the playstation or gameboy version bc collecting the cards were cool and had a value on them.

best of luck
 

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