Research and First Steps
After the concept and the opportunity were established, it was time to answer a few more questions:
- Is there enough market for TTA Pulse? Enough players to keep it useful?
- How would it actually work? What are the base features?
- What challenges need to be overcome?
- What are the first steps?
- What about forming a team?
At this point, I was really excited (some would say over-excited), and started to dig deeper. First, I ran a few internet searches about Through the Ages leaderboards, tournaments and other stats. This led to some cool discoveries: Youtube videos, Twitch streams, Facebook groups.
Call it confirmation bias, but the more I was researching, the more I was proving my own point. Plenty of community members were interested in competitive play. As mentioned in the last blog post, many of them were already participating in async tournaments. A ton of tournaments were also popping up on the new CGE tournament system. I took this as a proof of increasing competitive interest for Through the Ages.
However, SuperBlitz was not mentioned as often as I would have liked to see. Organizing SuperBlitz tournaments is a risky and challenging business, because of the scheduling difficulty. I posted in a few places to check what other players thought of competitive Super Blitz games. Meanwhile, I used every opportunity to discuss the idea with other players I met in the official app. Everyone was supportive and excited.
What about the numbers?
Still, I needed something more convincing. How about actual numbers? Let's see if it can be sustainable.
- At the time of this writing, there are 41828 players. 14942 (35%) of them are rank 10 and above.
- 3798 (9%) are rank 30 and above. This shows serious commitment, the main target group.
- 200 (5%) of that is the minimum active users per month.
- Below this level, I would consider unsustainable and not worth the effort.
- Anything above 800(20%) is a success, and has good potential for growth.
Another way to look at it is active players in the app at any given time:
- I have never seen less than 100 logged-in players.
- 5% would be (5+) active players (browsing, searching, pending or playing a game) at any given time on the platform.
- 20% would be (20+ players) at any given time: sustainable, with great potential.
- Anything in between (5-20 on average active users, 200 - 800 a month) would be somewhat realistic expectations.
These numbers sounded reasonable to me. Later, I received even more convincing numbers from CGE data of 2-player SuperBlitz games:
- last 7 days - 746 unique players, 1280 games played in total - last month - 1589 unique players, 5854 games (if we uniformly distribute them, a new game is starting every 7-8 minutes) From CGE statistics on web: - last 7 days - 5918 unique players - last month - 10439 unique players
This showed potential.
The matchmaker and the leaderboard were the core features, but several others are worth mentioning:
Better handling of abandoned games -- In a competitive environment, players consider playing versus AI a waste of time. If the opponent is replaced with an AI, we can terminate the game and count it as a win.
Personalized stats -- Tracking performance over time is an interesting side feature. We board gamers are often nerds. We like this type of stuff.
Divisions, achievements, and seasons -- Seasonality gives everyone the ability to prove themselves every few months.
There are two main challenges to make this work: app integration, and marketing.
Integration -- Having the players set up their own matches, and report the results manually, simply wouldn't cut it. The best bet would be integration via the official game API, where the platform creates matches on behalf of the players, and reads the results programmatically. Support by the app developers would make this fairly simple. Another option could be reverse engineering the protocols between the app and the server. (Someone would soon prove this to be a simpler problem to solve than I first thought.)
I couldn't think of any specific reasons why the developers would not support integration. I was fairly sure that CGE already had an API, so I just needed to convince them that providing access was worth it. It's almost like applying for a job, but with no expectations for salary: build an impressive demo (more on this later), and be persistent. Actually, it's more like pitching investors.
Marketing -- Yes, I mentioned marketing. If there is something I ever learned about creating anything online, it's that marketing is the key. No marketing > no players > no pool > no matches > no anything.
You can create the most amazing project and make your family and friends proud. Does that make it successful? Maybe for some, but not for me. Fortunately, marketing for the launch is very simple: target all existing Through the Ages players and let them know about this new way to play. Maybe CGE would be interested in helping with it too, and publish an in-app News article.
It's even more worthwhile to focus on how to find other (new) players. That will be necessary to make the project long-term sustainable. Creating a great platform that people would talk about is one thing, but writing content, documentation and blog posts like this one should help too. Finally, spreading links around the web about the platform and this content while narrowly targeting specific groups of people (competitive board gamers, nerds, developers, geeks, historians). I have some other concepts and ideas, which will come later.
This is a good moment to write a bit about what was motivating me to work on this. COVID-19 enabled more time for me, and although playing Through the Ages is great, I like to be productive, build things, and learn new technologies.
I needed something to be passionate about in my work as a software developer. Something that I would look forward to wake up early or stay late at night for. Hopefully, something that would inspire me to work on similar projects in the future.
So, it was about time to get that white sheet of paper (or screen). I mention this because it's so paralyzing. Maybe you know the feeling. Here's my small secret (recipe) to overcome it: Write down whatever is in my head at the moment. It doesn't have to be structured, or specific, or maybe not even related. In my case it was:
Place logo here Navigation: Home, Play, Profile, Leaderboard Page: Player Stats Find Match History I need to get in touch with CGE
And that's where it all started.
Everything is better together
I had to make some decisions.
What name should I give to the project? At the time my ideas were: Through the Seasons, TTA Leaderboard, and TTA: The New Ranking Extension. I didn't feel very strongly about any of them.
What technology stack should I use? More than likely, the backend should be separate. Ultimately there would be multiple front ends (webpage, apps, etc). I'm familiar with multiple frameworks, but none of them had particular advantages or disadvantages to consider. GraphQL was a new thing I was reading about and wanted to try.
Should this project be private, or open source? I don't have much experience (other than observer and user) of open source projects. Most of my other work is for private corporations. I really wanted to get more experience with open source.
What about a team? This is where some of the above questions could take different directions. There are a lot of good reasons to make this a team project:
- Gain credibility with CGE
- Fill in my own skill gaps
- Maintain motivation
- Build outside of my own point of view
- Learn and mentor
So there are clear benefits, but how do you find people and build a team? Given the concept of the project, other Through the Ages players should be the primary candidates. Having a software developer background would be nice, but anyone motivated enough to work on something like this could be helpful.
To be continued
In the next post, forming the team and building the demo app. Stay tuned.