Author Topic: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.3 - Community  (Read 198 times)

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Offline Aeronic

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Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.3 - Community
« on: July 17, 2020, 07:18:37 am »
Quote from: Intro
I recently came back to Soldat after a very long time, and it's rekindled a spark.  I miss games like this!  But the game's not the same as it once was.  For better and worse, it's changed - not so much the game itself, but the way it's being played. 

Now with Soldat becoming open-source, there's a new opportunity ahead for where the game goes from here. 

Thanks to the nostalgia I have for this game, I'd like to offer my perspective on some of what's different as someone who was involved with the community for a few years in the mid 00s, and offer some thoughts on other areas of improvement I can see.

I have a lot to say, so I'm breaking this up into four parts:

1. Movement
2. Maps
3. Community
4. User Experience

---

I'd like to start this post with some positivity.  With my local scene taken back to square one after the old & new players called it quits just a couple of weeks after the Steam release, it was great that the player's I've found via Midgard's Run server be very nice, helpful, and welcoming.  It's these communities which offer a unique experience that are no surprise to hold up the strongest against time, and they've done well given their limitations. 

I'm sure other communities which I haven't participated in aren't far off. 

Now, finding a place outside the game to help flesh out the experience - as through forums or Discord, for example - is healthy.  It's necessary for taking the community to places the game itself cannot.  With Run Mode, that's as a means to enhance how a player engages with the game on their server.  Actually joining their server - which can be done by anyone at any time - is what the mode revolves around, and what gives this community legs is not just having a deep game to work with, but also that it provides all players who join the means to compare themselves not just against their own past efforts, but the other players they come across and the times those players set as well - in their own time.  The external stuff isn't necessary, but it does enhance how an interested player can engage with Running as an activity as with e.g. the Run Mode Encyclopedia, as well as with other individuals in the community. 

They have a great thing going on for such a small community that's focused on such a specific and difficult niche, it's probably incredibly difficult for them to find new blood. 

Even "casual" players can compete at a high level in this type of system if they so choose, but even then that competitive aspect is not the be all and end all of what Run Mode is about. 

Unfortunately, this model is a far cry from what the main mode of play in Soldat has for it: CTF's Gather service. 

CTF, even back in my day, became dominated by the notion of competition.  That was brought to a point with Gather.  Gather is conceptually, despite its name, a means of separating players: the good from the bad.  It's done this very well, separating the best players, enthusiastic players, and simply competitive players, from what was once the core Soldat experience: public servers. 

Almost totally separating the bulk of the Soldat community from new players and what was once the core in-game experience is, IMO, the main reason why I'm writing these threads today.  Removing the most enthusiastic Soldaters from public servers and putting them in mirc & later discord diminished not just numbers, but fraternity as a primary means of pushing casual players from pubs as well.  When you're in a multiplayer game and these enthusiastic players, who are good enough for you to want to measure yourself against them, are constantly leaving to go play elsewhere because you're too much of a pleb for them - guess what?  That's not cool. 

And through that is ultimately my point: the remaining community is just so insular, their biggest accomplishment (Gather) has hurt the experience of new players to the point it's strangled the life out of the game. 

Today, there is effectively zero activity on local servers here. 

Read on for more detail on how this came to be in my neck of the woods.   

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.3 - Community
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2020, 07:19:07 am »
Storytime. 

2008. 

Coming to the start of the year, Soldat had been in great shape.  But throughout my time with the game, something was filtering through from the wider gaming community, where it frankly still hasn't stopped even today.  I think I'll call it "The CS Effect": people began taking the notion of "competition" in videogames way too seriously - like it was the only point of playing, and games that didn't have it were "for casuals".  This was to be the year it imploded the Soldat community in my neck of the woods. 

Many of the most vocal players here had become obsessed with this idea that games had to be some kind of hard core competitive experience, where people had to prove themselves to each other.  While this led to many toxic gamers and was getting worse over time, it wasn't until Gather became a thing here that everything was brought to a point.  On the surface, I don't blame people for wanting a means to play a game at a higher level.  However... I just don't think it's so clear Gather did that. 

(Note: I can only speak of how it was here, on the other side of the world to the greater, international Soldat community.  I've never played an international gather match.) 

IMO, it just shifted the learning experience away from public servers, away from clan wars, and into a relatively tiny enclave of players dominated by a loud few who really just wanted to think more highly of themselves.  Further, once there was no longer a community big enough for actual clans, Gather homogenised how the game was played.  What was once a community that brought all local fans of Soldat together to support as many aspects of the game as we could, became an echo chamber - one that mainly just reinforced what the noisiest of the remaining few wanted to think.  There was no longer any room for other voices. 

Gather was always going to be disruptive here.  It moved much community discussion away from the community forums to impermanent mIRC channels, removing feedback from many potentially important discussions, and generally dimished the life brought by focusing what was already only a small community's activity into one main location.  What I really don't get though, is how anyone thought casual players would want to jump through the hoops of setting up external software and join services that may or may not take time to set up and actually find games - when they previously could just start the game and jump right in - and they'd be doing all that against players exclusively much better than they are, who were there to prove just that, in a high pressure environment... they'd have to be nuts, surely? 

What is the allure for players who came to Soldat after the service was set up?  Without the most enthusastic players playing in pubs, where's the fraternity?  Where's the exposure to the skill level required to step up?  Gather wasn't Soldat's downfall on its own, but it was Soldat's Great Filter:  The many casuals who didn't want to involve themselves with third party nonsense grew bored of a game clearly in decline, and moved on.  Noobies who enjoyed the game and wanted to get more out of it only had Gather as an available next step, which isn't even remotely easy to find.  It wasn't even tangentially accessible to the average player through official means until 1.7.1.1, in 2020 via a random Discord link in the menu!  Even if they find Gather, they're exposed to players who've accumulated years worth of Soldat skills, and the gap made apparent is obviously too great.  There's not enough on the other side to make the journey worth it.  They call it a day and leave. 

That's basically what happened here. 

Granted, there were a number of things working against Soldat at this time...  Other than the community literally tearing itself apart, gaming was taking off in a big way far beyond the scope of Soldat and the slice of the market Soldat occupied just kept getting relatively smaller and smaller.  *But,* the issues weren't new - games always had better graphics, there were always new games being released to popular acclaim, but Soldat still until now found a way to thrive and get bigger on its own.  After Gather, you just have to take my word for it, but there was a huge downturn in public server players traceable directly to the moment the service was established here.  In a matter of a few short months, pubs went from being 5+ full servers across a variety of game modes most nights, go down to one half full CTF server and a few sporadic players here and there.  Soldat had been getting bigger *for years* until then. 

The lead up to this point had been a while coming.  While I'd already been on the way out for some time thanks to the shift in general community behaviour, it was still disheartening to see such a stark decline in server activity.  Nevertheless, that was my last memory of Soldat - leaving a game because the community had so happily & blindly just driven it into the ground. 

Evidently, things never improved.  What reinforces this notion is that when I came back to Soldat around the steam release, I saw a whole bunch of old players in the first few weeks.  I also saw a lot of obviously new players...  What did I not see?  Players I didn't recognise who had any obvious level of skill

Since then, I think I've found about 5 total local players who began after I left and had came back.  A figure dwarfed by the number of old names I saw.  Surely if there was another reason for Soldat's downfall there would have been some kind of surge at some point?  From which there'd be at least a few players who'd want to return? 

Gather is the only notable thing I'm aware of that changed Soldat or its circumstances at that time, and it's persisted ever since.  While I'm sure much is different about how it's been in the greater international side of Soldat, it's obvious it's been a contributor to the shape the game has taken there, too. 
« Last Edit: July 17, 2020, 07:41:28 am by Aeronic »

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.3 - Community
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2020, 07:21:04 am »
So, that's that.  Community separation is a problem.  Competition above all else, is a problem.  Not allowing room for other voices, is a problem. 

I do not know how to fix everything - sure, there are options I can pop off: an in-game IRC-like service to keep communication going; string new players along with cheap crap like achievements and skins just to keep them in the game a little longer; a single player experience to bait newbs into wanting more; provide the cleanest, best UI a game has ever seen; a multi-billion dollar advertising campaign... I don't know how to make it work for Soldat. 

But there are people who want to work on the game.  I think there's enough here to make it worth saving. 

My challenges to the wider Soldat community are thus: find a way to make this game enjoyable on some level for both new players & vets to play together (at least *sometimes*); to do it in a way you're still comfortable calling the game "Soldat"; and lastly, to be excited about doing what you're doing. 

If you want the game to survive, I believe this is key.  If you want to play a game you want, you need to push for something new players would want as part of that.  The people who've driven the game to its current point, you know who you are.  You're responsible for driving the game forward again, whether that's to stay the same and consign yourself to a fate we all already know... or to get creative, embrace the opinions of those outside your circle, and change.  These posts are about throwing ideas out there for all the remaining Soldat community members to consider if they want new lease of life for the game - at least, one that isn't going to fizzle out in weeks. 

I know it's not going to be easy, and not everyone's going to like it.  I still remember the rage when bink was introduced! 

With Soldat becoming open source, with this being the peak of remaining Soldaters you're going to have, now is the time to do something about it.