SGG "Ask Me Anything" transcript - 13 March 2019

AMA Session notes - March 13, 2019

The mods (@Coppersky @Kerridoc @RakeJay @Rook @zephyr1) had a conversation with SGG Staff to answer player-submitted questions.

SGG Staff Answering Questions:

  • Tim – Head of Game Design
  • Petri – Community Manager
  • Kira – Player Support/Community

Answers are from Tim unless otherwise indicated.

Note: this transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.
The transcript is divided into subject areas; there is a separate discussion thread linked for each subject area.

TL;DR? Read this: Unofficial TL;DR, SGG AMA (3/19)

Background

Tim came from the console game world, working at Remedy in Finland, but joined the E&P team from the beginning, and was the lead game designer for the early phases of the game. He has a background in art.

Future

1. Are you working on any games other than Empires and Puzzles? / Speaking of which, is E&P actively developing any new titles? Sneak peek?

I assume you have seen this around somewhere, but if you had asked me last week, then I would have said I had no comment, but we can comment a bit more as the cat is out of the bag.

We have another game, the current name is Puzzle Combat. It’s very very early, super early.

Lots of people will have questions about what it means for E&P. It’s a different team that joined last year that has been developing it. In Finland we’ve got some super mobile developers in here, so again it was not a massive stretch for us to find some friends [developers] to help when Empires & Puzzles went well and we decided to try something else.

I’m sure you have lots of questions about the mechanics and what’s similar and what’s different. That’s something I can’t say anything about yet. You can watch the videos, and can probably get some sense. A lot of things might change there.

There were lots of comments about who this is really for; well that’s what we’re testing. We’re looking to see if there is an audience for something like that. Features might change, style might change.

Should people have any concerns that this splitting your attention for a small team?

No, developed by a different dev team, so we will be increasing the dev team for Empires without sacrificing anything to the other project, as we’ll discuss when we talk about the new features under development for Empires.

Will the current Forum host both games?

Still under planning. We’ll see how it pans out when it’s closer to live. It’ll be good when we get to the point where we need a forum for the new game!

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Summons & Ascension Items

2. Are there plans to add heroes (maybe Season 2 heroes once Season 3 has begun?) to TC13/TC20? Some elements have so few.

So lots of things at once in this question.

Something that’s going to happen, one of the big things we’re working on that’s related to this. There is going to be before Christmas, what we’re calling a Stronghold Upgrade. Some new buildings will be added this year, hopefully in beta sooner rather than later. There will be a new Training Camp or upgrade to TC; I’m pretty sure that once it goes to beta we’ll get so much feedback about what you get out of the training camp, but the upgrade is intended to address some of the original question. Some earlier Heroes of the Month could be theoretically possible to get through the new training camp options; that’s more likely than us doing anything with Season 2 heroes [in the TC]. We’ll be adding some options along the way, so you’ll be able to train a bit more than you can today.

A lot could change in beta. I can promise that there will be a new building for training, a new option for training, and we definitely will work through what new options will be included.

At the moment, you can currently get troops through there as well. It’s pretty cool, this training part of the new training building. At the moment there’s interesting things coming from there. I want to get this into beta; at the moment we’re calling it the “Advanced Training Camp”. Hoping for release in beta in the next few months — probably before summer — and we’ll see from that just how far we can go.

3. Do you think Summoning is the best possible game design approach to acquiring heroes, or would you consider other approaches like converting existing heroes into a new one, collecting shards for a hero, or earning increased or guaranteed odds for a good hero?

Summoning has covered a lot of the bases so far, but let’s again go to the massive building upgrades.

The TC might actually do something like this; can’t really go into specific but for example converting existing heroes into new heroes. That might be part of the new Training Camp. The new TC will be in beta in a couple of months, and just at the moment the last option is converting, or having a chance of converting, heroes.

Shards are really cool idea, but no plans for that in current design but that’s not out of the question for the future, because that would tie really nicely into some feature really far in the future.

4. Why is the game designed to make it so difficult to get ascension mats? What would make you think that the drop rate was too low or too high?

We had this question last year. [Petri: we have it every day!]

Big thing is to make sure that the game doesn’t end too quickly. This is a pretty heavy-handed way of making sure the game doesn’t end too quickly, so we’ll continue adding new way to get materials, but adding more mats into the game without breaking the essential experience for new players. But the pace is a bit slower than we’d like. Doing well in the new Raid Tournaments [formerly called weekly raid challenges] is one of the new avenues for new mats.

We haven’t changed the odds of ascension material drops.

We haven’t made anything worse, but if you have a dry spell, I know how that feels. The odds are very very low for some items, so it’s not surprising that you see dry spells. Working on new features that have more way to get rare mats. The newest way are the Raid Tournaments, which hopefully goes full live in about a month. The third build just went to beta yesterday, and we hope that’s the last test build.

Is there a variable controlling how mats drop? Like this month they might be less frequent and next month more frequent? Is there a wave of how they drop?

As far as I know, no.

This is like the question of whether boards are random.

There are fixed percentages for titans, for rare titans, and so on. It’s very unlikely that we have changed them; we usually haven’t changed the probabilities since the feature has launched. For example, rare titans and chest, as far as I know these have had the same odds since the beginning, and they shouldn’t be affected by the position of the moon or anything. [Laughter] The odds of pulling 4* items are so low it’s hard to see any patterns, but we haven’t changed anything.

Petri: And we all play the game here, and we all have the same frustration.

Kira: So someone here (not naming names) has fewer yellow heroes and like 30 magic orbs, and that’s all she gets. But for me it’s, “I need your orbs, please!”

Tim: There is no hidden “fail safe” which is how you can get players who have some weird streak, some unbelievable run, but we decided from the beginning not to go that route. There are a lot of issues trying to make such a system good for everyone, so if you get a 4* mat you just get whatever random mat comes up [without reference to what you need or have in inventory]. So players get some really interesting [runs].

So to get the super explicit statement that we can quote over and over again on the Forum: there is no way in which the game adapts to the heroes you have, the ascension materials you have, the things that you need, your spending habits, or any other criteria being used to filter the randomness?

Tim: Yeah, in my alliance, for example (and I haven’t actually ever said that I work for SGG, and have been playing with them from the beginning) — there’s a belief that if you do summons one by one, you’ll get better heroes. I haven’t commented. It just doesn’t affect anything — but…what can you say.

Kira: What can you say? A lot of it is people it may be not really understanding the way statistics actually work. The analogy we would like to use to explain when players write to us, is if you’ve flipped a coin 10 times, and 9 times it was tails, it doesn’t mean that tenth time has to be heads. It just doesn’t work that way.

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Fairness / Trading

5. Are the boards actually random or not? Are they influenced in any way by the attacking team a player uses? Does it vary at all in Raids, Titans, Wars, World Map stages, or anywhere else? Why do opening boards hardly ever have good matches? If you do say that it’s all random, how do you explain to players who are convinced that it’s not, based on their own experiences?

The convincing part is really hard if you don’t believe us that it’s random.

Did you ever play an older game called Puzzle Quest? I played it a lot and read the forums, and even then there were players that bought the game and were super angry, convinced that the boards weren’t random. Even when the developers published some code for the board generator, it didn’t help. Players were convinced that the boards weren’t random.

That said, a year ago there was a bug where two accounts could get the same boards, but that was a bug, not intention.

Why do opening boards have no good matches?

The boards are set to ensure that there is no insta-match, that the boards don’t start playing themselves. But I don’t believe there’s any lingering effect from the fact that we make sure that you don’t get a match before moving a tile. It shouldn’t affect anything.

Boards are truly random; it’s really hard to convince. Even if we had an engineer explain it, it probably wouldn’t help the cases where people don’t believe.

When we have that engineer, please make sure they address stacking. When people bring all purple heroes, why do they see few purple tile?

I understand what you’re saying, but I think the engineer would just be confused, because we don’t see it in the office. Of course, we’re a much smaller group. We have like a million, over one million players every day [so extreme events will happen]. We haven’t made it [i.e. shifting odds] in the game.

Kira: This may be confirmation bias, players only notice when you get a bad board. Then they start talking to their alliance members, and they say, “oh, I’ve seen it too” — and then they say “aha, I knew it.”

6. Trading between players is perhaps the most commonly requested feature addition to the game. You’ve previously expressed a desire to add something related to this to the game. Do you still have that in mind for the future, or will other things like the Alchemy Lab and Hero Academy take the place of trading?

Alchemy Lab and Hero Academy will do something about that. These are are parts of the Stronghold Upgrade. Because they are very doable. Trading has some things to solve, and we are super-busy with all the other things we want to do inside Empires & Puzzles. So because we wanted to get something this year that addresses some of these issues, that’s why we’re adding these buildings.

Alchemy Lab will enable conversion of “junk” (lower rarity items) or items so you can use lower-rarity items to try to get higher-rarity items. That’s the intended use of the Alchemy Lab. It’s not exactly trading, like people want to do, and the social aspect would be awesome, but if you have hundreds of thousands of unused items in your inventory, the Alchemy Lab will provide a use for them. It’s not trading, but it’s a step.

Same with Hero Academy, a surplus of heroes can be converted into new ones. Let’s see how that rolls out. I’m hoping that the Hero Academy would have something where some heroes could be traded or converted into new ones, but that needs to be tested in beta

The Alchemy Lab is more straightforward, and the design’s already mostly done. It’s just waiting to get coded up.

Is there any concern with the Hero Academy that if you’re converting lower to higher rarity that the F2P players might be left behind because they don’t have heroes to convert?

The Hero Academy will be F2P friendly. The Alchemy Lab works differently; we know that people have surplus items. In the Hero Academy, in the last phase of that you can try convert a hero of one rarity into a different hero of the same rarity. So if you have a surplus of a specific hero, say you don’t need your fifth or sixth of a particularly legendary hero, there would be some use for that. But this is a feature where we need to wait and see what happens in beta. Alchemy Lab is more straightforward.

With the direction you’re heading with the Hero Academy, even though the design isn’t finished and things are very uncertain, should people be considering holding dupes and increasing roster size, or is that premature?

I’m hoping there will be a legitimate use for duplicates. Too early to tell, will need to see what is released in beta and how the Hero Academy will be functioning.

But it might be the case that this feature won’t make it into the Hero Academy.

Too speculative at this point to stockpile heroes; we can put out some more information once we are further along.

Kira: Of course, all players have fed away good heroes that we wouldn’t have if this feature had been available so few players get any actual advantage. Of course, if you’re just starting after it’s in beta and you have an amazing pull, then you’ll know not to feed away good duplicates.

Tim: The costs in terms of food and time or whatever for the Hero Academy needs to be set. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of feedback in beta. Interesting challenge, but we want to do it.

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Alliances

7. What have you considered, and where do you stand, regarding alliance-wide participation statistics on titan and war hits?

Sounds cool.

We talk often about Quality of Life [QOL] improvements for the game. These are super valuable for the community. The flip side is there are a lot of big things we want to add to the game. We are a bigger team than we were at launch, but we are still a small team (and the teams for Empires & Puzzle and Puzzle Combat are different), so most people are constantly tied up on new features, new heroes.

It’s unfortunately often very difficult to prioritize QOL improvements over new features.

Hero classes took nearly a year to do, and alliance wars nearly a year before that. So there are a lot of QOL improvements that we’re like, yeah, absolutely nothing against them, but they’re in the [lower priority] list of QOL improvements. One of my favorites is to have a better hero roster with tabs or pages, to organize heroes. Everyone says we should have it, but it just hasn’t risen to the top.

8. Are there plans to add more teamwork-based features beyond Titans and War?

Yes. Sneak peek later this year.

9. Are there any plans to improve alliance recruitment?

Very high on the QOL bucket.

Petri: We just had a discussion a few hours ago about when we will do something about this.

Tim: The priority is very high, so hopefully someone will get this done. Very high priority on the QOL list, but it’s not a new feature [and so lower priority]. Discussed many many times, so definitely plans. When can we get to them is the question.

Petri: We understand the concept from the community, also the issues with in-game chat. Sometimes we’ve had to ban players [from chat] if they are too disruptive there, even though they think they’re doing good.

Kira: And that’s a problem, because there is a channel for recruiting but it becomes unusable if there’s a flood of text. Finding the balance is something we’ve been pushing for.

Petri: And of course there are other channels for alliance recruiting, like the Forums, Facebook and Reddit.

10. Is there any plan for returning to the old alliance search? Several months ago people were able to find members very easily, but suddenly there was a big SNAFU and we’ve had troubles with alliance recruitment ever since.

This would be a better question for @mhalttu.

This is one of the cases that it maybe got broke because we tried to improve it. It wouldn’t be the first time in the twenty years I have been in game development that when you try to improve something you accidentally break it for a while.

Kira: Alliance search is hurt if there are special characters, etc. in the alliance name.

Is it being considered to have a higher gem cost to create an alliance?

Not really. There has been some discussion about shortening the time when an inactive alliance is dissolved.

We don’t really make money from the gem fee; the fee is to prevent spamming, but if there’s some other way to prevent spamming, that would be okay.

11. I think many enjoyed the Valentines special that allowed for buying yourself and your alliance gems. Is there a chance this could become a holiday special roughly once a month? It was nice to help each other out.

Players loved it, and we want to do something with it. We were surprised about how well it was received, so we totally want to do something with it. We are looking at options, but I don’t know what. It would be a shame to wait 12 months to have something like it again.

zephyr1: This was the one thing we’ve ever seen on the Forum that had nearly universally positive feedback. There were some concerns expressed about the lack of option for anonymity, and social pressure. But I didn’t see anyone who had outright negative feedback.

Petri: That’s one of the great things about this game, the community, the alliances, your team.

Tim: As a designer we have to think about offers like this being too often. In the worst case it could feel like almost a requirement, and that would be not great. We don’t want to wait until next year for something like it, but an always-active feature could have some unintentional effects.

How do ideas for new offers like this come up in development? Do they come from the developers? Marketing?

Not marketing. Way back when we didn’t have marketing, but as soon as we had a marketing team, that was one of the decisions we made, that marketing and development are completely separate. Marketing does what they do best, developers design the game. This is different than in many companies.

Ideas come from different avenues: community feedback, designers, analytics; ideas come from anyone on the team as well as the community. At the moment we have a handful of people who bounce around ideas for offers. The team is super busy — the upcoming features and Heroes of the Month take up a lot of our time, so we have less time to chat about new offers.

There’s an interesting insight in that answer that there is no SGG department is focused on offers. There’s a lot of player perception is that the game is all about the offers, but it appears they’re in fact a secondary consideration.

Actually, in the very beginning, we didn’t even have offers. And later, some people were complaining that there weren’t enough offers.

From the beginning, we planned for and have a lot of offers, but we’ve been very efficient in developing them. Many other companies, once they get the game up and operational, focus on offers — the development department is the offers department. That’s a big way that we differ. We have one guy looking after them, occasionally we add a bunch of new offers, as well as tweak the old ones. Offers are not top-of-mind, it’s very different than at other companies. Most of the team thinks about them very, very rarely. As the feature design team, most of our time goes into the future of the game, as well as bug reports.

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Season 2

12. After Season 2 has been fully released, will the Atlantis portal continue monthly, or are you considering some other changes to the summons portals to incorporate Season 2 heroes and old HotM?

Season 2, once the story concludes, (hopefully it’s fun; we just added the last things there) the Atlantis Summons will return every month for the foreseeable future.

Season 3 is far away — we started working on it, but there definitely will be a delay between season 2 and season 3. In the meantime, Atlantis summons will continue, and we might add some new heroes to it (other than the usual HotM).

Once Season 3 starts we might do something else, but we won’t devalue Atlantis coins but we might do some shuffling around.

13. What’s coming after Season 2 wraps up in Q2? Season 3 or just reruns?

Will go to Season 3 as soon as we have it ready, but it’s very unlikely we’ll have it done even in half a year. It’s going to have at least the same number of new heroes, at least the same number of provinces, and some extra spice there like the things we did in Season, and address some issues people had with Season 2.

There will be a gap between Season 2 and Season 3.

14. How do you figure out which HotM will be in the Atlantis portals?

There is a pattern of sorts. We basically started going one-by-one from the beginning and chose pairs that make some sense, not two highly desirable heroes at once. It’s up to the designers. The pattern is highly “manual."

We’ll have to decide how far back that rotation goes, there’ll come a time when we have to go local [with only the newer heroes] because new heroes are always being introduced.

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Heroes

15. There are fewer Holy and Ice heroes amongst the classic Season 1 heroes than the rest. Are there plans in the works to remedy this imbalance?

We probably should balance up the 4* Classics. Not against it, just low on the list. We have Season 3 and the skins, and other new development.

16. The design of new heroes seems to either be more niche or more powerful than those that preceded them. This path is not sustainable without making classic 5* heroes irrelevant. Do you have other ideas on how new heroes can be introduced that are both interesting to a broad base of players or increasing the distance between these heroes and the older heroes (TC20 heroes for example).

Sometimes we do design heroes that are more niche, and sometimes we add those that are more powerful, but we are very careful with the power creep.

True, if we keep introducing new heroes that are more powerful than the Classic heroes, all older 5* heroes would become irrelevant. So that’s the reason for another new feature we can give you a bit of a sneak peek about: “skins” (remember the picture of “Chef Boldtusk” we shared?).

We haven’t locked down the name yet, could be “skins” or “personas” but it’s more than just changing the looks of a hero. There was a comment on the forums about how lazy SGG is; how hard could it be just to swap the art. Swapping the art would not be that hard, but the new “skins” feature (not final name) it’s also supposed to do something new with the Classic heroes — maybe, for example, changing the skin makes the hero more powerful, or having both original and new skins makes both versions more powerful or changes something in the heroes.

This is a thing we want to do with the Classic heroes to keep them up [to the newer heroes] and not artificial, not just boosting or buffing them. This is specifically a goal for the skin feature. Hopeful to go to beta summer-ish (next six months). So some way to change and possibly upgrade heroes, focused on the Classics (4*, 5*) — something that makes them “strike back”.

Is there an internal commitment that these upgrades won’t creep to HotM or event heroes and widen the power gap even more?

This feature is focused on Classics to start; not off the table that they won’t see something in the future for HotM or event heroes. Skins actually started only as a way to change the look, but now it’s a bigger feature. It might be fun to have sensible alternative looks for all heroes. But definitely not this year except for Classic heroes. The goal is not to make powerful heroes even more powerful.

Because we wanted to address a lot of things with this feature, including making sure that Classic heroes have a fighting chance against the new ones, it also makes the feature very complex to develop. The goal is to have this year a way to give Classic heroes different looks that also makes them more powerful.

Was that also the thinking with emblems?

Emblems are a bit different and may still evolve. That was intended for all heroes of all rarities, something for everyone. We keep looking at feedback on emblems. Emblems are now given very slowly to see how they change the game. We are being very careful with them.

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Game Design Process

17. How are heroes designed? Who’s involved in the process? How are stats, speed, and specials determined? How do you approach nerfs/buffs for heroes already released?

We have a fairly clear order of what colors, classes, and genders are coming up because we have a pretty clear idea of what combinations are needed. It may not be clear to the community, but we know internally that we need, say, yet another Holy monk, or a Hero of different speed, in near future.

Gender of new heroes generally alternates monthly — for example, January was Onatel (female), February Kunchen (male) and so on. We listen to community feedback — e.g. we heard a lot of requests for a female orc; that’s coming! We took a while to get that through, because there’s a pretty long lead time for a hero. We get the art through, then plan the special that would fit the art, idea and the meta. So for example with the female orc, the community has really been asking for a female orc. It probably should be red or green, but all the male orcs are red, so when can we have a red character? Then we have the art ready and the slot ready.

Specials, especially this year for HotM, are trying to fill something that is missing, or the meta is very skewed in some way. But we can’t guarantee that everyone gets a HotM so to some extent this is a creative process.

The wilder things tend to happen with the event heroes. HOTM this year — let’s see how it goes in 2020 — are remixing existing special components, while the event heroes have the wilder specials. When we started designing Wonderland, all bets were off, like for Cheshire Cat. We just couldn’t give such a wild skill as reshuffling to a Legendary hero — if there’s too high a risk of really breaking the balance, then that hero has to go down to a lower rarity. Once we know what we’re doing and how it will fit in the meta, then we hope to get a skill like the Cheshire Cat’s to the Legendary level.

Was Wilbur an example of that? He’s almost a 5* in a 4*'s body.

Yes, and Merlin as well. We wanted a hero who could possess another, is a good example of a skill that was potentially too powerful for a legendary. Event heroes are designed in batches and can allow more range, while with the HotM, which are all legendary and released one by one, we are a bit more cautious and they are a bit more safe designed. With the Challenge Event heroes, we are able to be a bit wilder. This is a big topic!

18. Have you ever had a fight over original art for the game? If yes, which art and who won?

Yes, some. Very early in the game, we decided it could house more different visual styles than other games. It’s had ups and downs; not everyone liked the Christmas hero art. We’re pretty happy with the design process because it’s also created the opportunity for good designs to come in. Even if there a few negative voices, they might decide it’s still okay to have that art in the game because we’re still following the philosophy that the game can have many different artistic styles.

Once Season 3 comes, we’ve learned some things from feedback on Season 2 heroes art and design that will affect Season 3 heroes.

Not many fights internally, but we still want to keep up the spirit of experimentation with heroes and art; we think in the long term that makes the game even better. There are some debates internally about revising released art; we did that early, as you can see comparing the early promotion art, but we’ve been resistant to change in the last year, year and a half. We are keeping focused on the future, even in this area.

We all have our heroes that we all have our pet peeves and our favorites and least favorites.

19. Where do you find your inspiration for the far-flung art designs?

Everywhere; it’s part of the design process to be open. When we had options for the fifth challenge event, instead of going with “it’s another tribe of orcs” or a variation of an earlier challenge, we really intentionally looked for ideas that could theoretically fit the game but could be fresh. Alice in Wonderland, which is used in many different ways in many different medias, seemed interesting against the small chance that it could go horribly wrong — like any creative idea. With Christmas, we were saying, what if we had some truly Christmas heroes.

We have some super-talented artists in the company, but we also get art from all over the planet, because we have a lot of art needs. Asia, North America, some from Finland which adds diversity to the game’s art style. We want art that’s done by different people in different places around the world. It’s worked out surprisingly well.

Can you speak to the Japanese heroes and where those designs came from?

For Season 2, we wanted three distinct families; Season 3 might be very different. We wanted the Atlantis family, something that’s very Asian (I’m a big fan of samurais, but everyone’s a fan of something and that affects decisions).

The very first idea of Season 2 was like, “the heroes go to the Bahamas,” so that was another family theme.

The three family ideas may not be totally in line with each other, so that might mean that they were less focused, and Season 3 is likely to be more focused on one central idea. After setting three different themes, SGG worked with different partners to develop the distinct families. Asian characters were not drawn in Asia, so some of the details might not be exactly right.

Kira: I didn’t realize how little known Danzaburo was outside of Japan, he’s quite famous. There are shrines to him all over the place, and he looks exactly like a statue you could buy in a Japanese gift shop; we even have one in the office. Our art has added a little loincloth to make him more appropriately dressed.

Tim: Pretty far-flung ideas. We always try to make sure there’s cool things in queue for the next 6-12 months. We are still a small company so things happen pretty freely. We try to combine the ideas and art design we get from this forward-thinking process. Hopefully, we like it and enough people like it. We understand when someone picks up an issue in the design. “Why is this a bit more wilder bunch than in some other games?” We intend to have this game running for many, many years. Next year we might adjust the style a bit based on community feedback, and the year after that something new might happen again.

20. We now have five Challenge Events, one for each reflecting color. Are there new events planned? Will these be added to or replace existing events?

I think this is public — well, it’s public now. Breaking news!

The plan is to update/refresh all current events well before the end of the year.

The original plan has always been to have five challenge events, but it did not happen quite as quickly as maybe some thought it might. Now we’re up to five. So before we think of the sixth, we intend to do more work on the existing five.

There will be sneak peeks of new challenge event heroes in the future.

We’ll look at the rules for the challenge events.

I think we will have a challenge event summons token once we do a refresh of the whole thing. The challenge events are the only portal that doesn’t have a free way to draw, which we’d like to add.

The sneak peek might be of the new heroes, because we already know who will be there, or a sneak peek of other stuff.

21. Does hero design take into account diversity of age/race/body type?

We have a long lead time on hero design, so changes happen gradually.

With respect to gender, from our point of view, the HotM are already developed male-female-male-female. Some are a bit more like, what is the gender of a statue or a ghost, but we’ve actually developed them based on gender.

With race, we have a bit more work to do. Even at the beginning of the game, we chose Bane to be a lead character of the original cast, but we’re trying to be more systematic about race and body shape; that’s part of the plan.

We are trying to get more elderly heroes in the game (such as upcoming Hero of the Month, Margaret). Not the easiest thing in the world, even in the fantasy world genre.

Some popular movies are doing awesome work on this. When some old stories are made into movies, they go through a reshuffle of races and genders of characters. We’ve tried to get people of different skin colors in the Challenge Events, but we have more work to do there.

Kira: We’re especially trying to have a diverse representation of women in the game. Sometimes there’s less armor than some would like; last year we introduced three skimpily clad women in a row and we learned our lesson from that. It’s something we talk a lot about, and we have a very international team here at SGG. There is always a debate within the office. I quite like our female characters; I think they’re super powerful and great, but I’d like an old maid.

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The Community

22. Do you have any plans to address negativity about the game amongst the player community?

Yes, that’s something we’ve been discussing the negativity on the forums.

We’ve been reading the thread that @Rigs started, and there are lots of good points there.

One thing we’ve been discussing to combat the negativity is to put in fun new activities for the player community. Like adding in more contests, as we did for the Second Anniversary.

If you have concrete ideas, those are welcome. We hear a need for more communication but we want more actionable ideas of what specifically SGG should do.

Kira: Forums were always intended to be more player-to-player discussion. We are more in the role of monitoring, reading, and collecting feedback. The developers are also actively reading it and collecting feedback. You [moderators] can always reach out to us directly with issues. We will have Sneak Peeks, will update list of Frequent Requests, which is due to be updated as it’s getting old, and providing more previews.

Petri: Also regarding clear violations [of forum rules], we will now take a stronger stance on enforcement. If someone is not providing anything other than negative feedback — of course, we don’t want to silence people, we want to encourage honest feedback, but if someone is too negative all the time, then we are going to take action.

Kira: That’s an important point. We want the negative criticism of the game, we can take it. We want the negative feedback; we’re never going to censor unwanted or undesirable posts from our point of view. But there’s a fine line between that and always negative, negative without providing feedback of how it should be improved.

We’ve had issues recently about negativity. When we’ve asked for documentation, many times it’s coming from third party apps (such as Line), which we do not have any control over.

Petri: That’s something we can add the FAQ, but those issues have to be reported to the platform provider, not SGG.

Kira: One other thing I’d like to add on that, if you feel the Forum has become too negative, set a good example. Be a positive voice. Use your voice to lift up the community.

Petri: If you have good ideas, make sure to remind us of them.

Kira: We do trust the moderators; you’re our eyes and ears. If there are issues or good ideas, bring them to us. But the forums were always meant to be player-to-player.

23. There are certain things that come up over and over again on the Forum. The times that one of you comes in and gives a clear statement can often just resolve it. It seem like there are a lot of opportunities where a single, clear answer can end a lot of frustration, speculation, and debate. Is there an opportunity for staff to be more proactive about that?

Kira: Yes, we could be more proactive about that. You [moderators] can ping us directly. Usually those issues are addressed on the FAQ page (https://support.smallgiantgames.com) , which does require one extra click, but hopefully we can share that around.

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Fun / Miscellaneous

24. What is the funniest / quirkiest placeholder graphic you have used in testing?

The interesting thing is we use very few placeholders. To see the funniest placeholder graphics, look at the very first YouTube video (https://youtu.be/er_pwGUf4Jc)! We move so quickly that if we have a placeholder, there’s a risk that the placeholder would get released.

We don’t put the first version of a hero into the game until we actually have the code.

Petri: Remember when Hu Tao was replaced by the giant question mark? I guess that was an early placeholder.

Tim: We haven’t replaced or changed the hero’s art very often. When we decide to get a hero in the game, we focus on completing that. We shuffle the art less than other companies.

25. What’s the vibe like in the office? Has it been a lot of stress making E&P or has it been mainly fun? What do you guys do together after hours (if anything)? What happened at the Christmas party this year?

Petri: SGG is a great place to work. We’re really close here. We do have these smaller groups, even as we get larger. We have had dancing class, …

Kira: …an escape room, ice skating night (as you can imagine in Finland). Originally we were all on the same floor, but now we’re on two floors, and can feel a little separate. So to reconnect and get to know newer people, we plan these events, usually after work. Like, a movie here or there.

Petri: We have a VR and game room with Playstation, lots of playing. We’re pretty close especially within teams.

Tim: The Finnish work/life culture is to work very efficiently but not long hours. The office is surprisingly quiet, especially after hours. Standups [meetings] are very “yes/no”; developers are very efficient.

How many employees are you up to now?

We’re up to about 50 employees, many with families. We haven’t had any full-time employees leaving the company basically ever. In the beginning staff was all in the same room. Petri was number 11; Kira number 21.

About the Christmas party:

Kira: We had a cranberry fruit punch served in glasses shaped like health potion flasks, and after dinner, shots in the little vials, blue or green depending on what you think you needed. If I can track down the photos, maybe I’ll post them.

Tim: Yeah and the Christmas tree decorations were great [no details provided!].

26. Do staff play E&P?

Petri: Most people in the office mostly play daily. I think there are a few internal Alliances but the staff is pretty spread out. I’m in the game with my real name but others here are playing mostly with nicknames.

Kira: I play everyday (C2P) and am level 45…ish?? I have been in the same Alliance the entire time. I sent invites to multiple Alliances when I was level 4, and they were the only ones who accepted. I like being in an Alliance that has players at every level, and is willing to welcome noobs and more casual players. Only hint I will give about my in-game identity is I have the same avatar as on the Forum.

zephyr1: You’re C2P? Wait, they don’t just pay all the Staff’s salaries in gems and free t-shirts? :laughing:

27. If you could claim credit for one cool aspect of the game, what is it, and which staff member are you stealing the credit from?

That’s pretty easy. The very, very original idea for the match-3, how the troops move.

One of the programmers did that. We had a week, where everyone who could program showed off their own ideas, like racing games, Super Mario games, whatever, and one of the guys, David, had a prototype for match-3 game. Later on when we decided to do something really big. The fantasy theme and the idea of huge RPG suited that. But this is how actually David’s small project became the heart of the whole game.

I’m responsible for many of the early heroes and overall game concept, for good or ill, but what’s at the very heart of the game is something that one of the programmer’s thought would be fun.

28. Are you still adding people to beta? Why does this take so long?

Petri: We are still reviewing beta applications. We do a lot of background checks.

Kira: Each Beta application is examined by hand; for a small team like ours it is a lot of work. We are looking for a variety of players, people who provide active, constructive feedback.

Petri: We have a support team less than 10 people. We are looking to improve our support system.

Kira: That’s a big thing, too. More time on Forum/Support takes away from the actual game development.

29. There’s widespread concern that Aife may get nerfed. Can you assure us this isn’t true?

We can’t guarantee anything!

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CLOSING THOUGHTS & RECAP:

Please keep up the communication!

More AMA, at least every six months.

Tim: We have at least four big features coming this year:

  • Challenge event update
  • Stronghold expansion/update
  • “Skins” which is far more than just swapping the looks
  • Raid Tournaments

Raid Tournaments should be live in a month or so. We want to have the other three features in beta in a few months, released within half-year. So four big things in the next 6 months, plus quality-of-life improvements and new HotMs. And these are not the last big changes for the game!

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