As promised, we have been working on a roadmap document to keep you all informed about our near and future plans. This is it. Status updates, gameplay & content improvements, map updates, and more. It’s a big one, so go grab a nice cup of tea and make yourself comfortable!
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Before we go into our plans for the future of the game, let me quickly address the question on everybody’s mind: What is happening with the player count and what will happen if it drops even lower?
Of course we aren’t blind or delusional, so we are absolutely aware that this is a major concern. Any multiplayer game, and Battle Royale games in particular, are at risk of dropping below a critical threshold when there just aren’t enough concurrent players to be able to play the game. To be completely frank: It is a very real possibility that this will happen, and that there will be times that it won’t be possible to find a full lobby.
The good news is that this is no threat to our survival. As a small and nimble team, we do not rely on instant large player counts to keep the lights on. The amount of attention and positive feedback we have received from the Early Access release alone is absolutely huge for an independent developer like us. What this means exactly will become clearer in time, but the bottom line is that our future looks as bright as ever.
That said, the current situation is obviously not satisfying and we will do whatever we can not just to ensure that things will improve in the future, but also to provide a better experience for our players right now. Our plan to do so is two-fold: On the one hand we are working on design and development for major updates that will address the root issues contributing to poor player retention, and on the other hand we have plans for improvements aimed at having a more immediate effect.
Many of you have expressed your frustration with our lack of (official) communication during the last few weeks, and you have a point. Without making excuses, we simply underestimated how busy we would all be after the release, and that left us completely unprepared.
For this we can only apologise and vow to do better. As soon as the dust settles we will focus on setting up more effective channels to keep you guys informed about what we are up to.
One such measure is that we will be setting up a developer blog, and we will encourage everyone on the team to post regular updates on their tasks. So far, we are all used to communicating informally with a small group of testers through our chat, so please bear with us as we get used to this new paradigm! Our aim is to release at least one major dev update per month.
SHORT TERM IMPROVEMENTS
Our core issue is player retention, which unfortunately means that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem instantly. Even extreme marketing efforts would only increase the rate at which we churn through new players, without providing a long-term fix. That said, there are a number of things we can do to at least make things a bit more bearable while we fix the real issues. Current plans include (but are not limited to):
Prioritising custom servers, so we can organise regular tournaments and community events.
Improved prequeue behaviour to start matches faster and to make the prequeue itself more fun to play. The goal is that the moment you queue up you get placed into a fun gameplay experience, and matches start as soon as it makes sense.
Continued rolling out of smaller updates in-between working on the larger updates to get some of the new features to you as soon as possible.
Scheduled test sessions. More on this later, but during specific timeframes we will invite the community to try out early versions of major changes on the test server.
In addition, we will of course keep looking into any potential promotions we can do to increase exposure of IoN and bring in more players, as long as we can do so without hurting the project in the long run.
LONG TERM SOLUTIONS
Now we are getting to the real meat of this text and why you are probably reading it.
If you are one of our core players, you probably love the game to bits and we totally agree with you! We might be a little biased though…
We’ve received a huge amount of fantastic feedback since opening the game up to Early Access, and most of it has the same underlying theme: “We love the core gameplay and pacing, but there just isn’t enough to do.”
For a certain type of player this is a non-issue. If you are like us, then solid core mechanics are probably enough to keep you hooked forever as you hone your skills to perfection. But for everyone else this is not enough, and this is the number one reason why we are bleeding players.
Addressing this does not mean that we are going to betray our competitive roots. But now that we have a solid foundation, we need to build a proper house on it. We will do so carefully with the goal of adding additional strategic depth and complexity for competitive players, while also providing a lot more fun content to play around with for beginners and casual players.
And this is how we plan to achieve that:
In terms of additional content, our focus lies on providing tools that create strategic depth, while also being fun to interact with by itself. These tools will not change the core gameplay experience but enhance it by creating new tactical situations and opportunities for teamplay, while also being plain fun to play around with.
Our Sci-Fi theme in particular provides a lot of opportunity for interesting items, and to facilitate this we are working on a major update that will provide us with near infinite design space for adding such gadgets. Right now we can’t tell you the specifics of this system as they are still being finalised, but we can’t wait to tell you more about it and to get you to try it out for yourself.
In terms of what exactly those gadgets will look like, there is really no limit to the possibilities! We’ll be extremely careful to ensure that everything we introduce provides the largest bang for the buck both in terms of adding competitive depth and fun factor. We will also be thoroughly testing each item on the public test server before signing off on it. Possibilities include everything from tactical grenades over recon and support utilities to mobility tools.
Of course it is also important that any such tool allows counterplay, and that requires that it is possible to identify and predict what capabilities other players have at their disposal. Our concept got this part covered as well.
For weapons, we will be taking more advantage of our alien source to spice things up considerably. Our current lineup of earth-based weapons provides the foundation, as more unique weapons will be added to the mix that will require a bit more effort to acquire. Special weapons will not be designed to be overpowering in terms of damage potential, but to provide unique utility advantages and options, like increased damage against shields or automatic ammo regeneration. We will also be experimenting with some oddball weapon designs which may not necessarily be able to compete with earth based weapons in terms of raw stopping powers, but can provide some potential for skillful trickshots when you run out of other options.
Regarding vehicles, a lot of you enjoy that the Island is fast-paced enough to not rely on them. That is why our plans for vehicles are quite literally floating in the air, if you catch my drift.
We’ll be taking a closer look at vehicles once we’ve tackled other priorities and are confident we can implement something fun and balanced. We know this is a bit of a controversial topic so it will get handled with care.
In terms of maps, we will continue to update Terra Fictus with improved points of interest and more interesting overall locations, while improving overall consistency.
On top of this, we are working on two additional maps. And while Terra Fictus is distinctively “Earth” themed, combining a large range of different locations and eras from planet Earth, the two remaining islands will be entirely alien.
One of our core features is a hardcore ranking system. It’s hardcore because to maintain a top ranking, you have to consistently perform well in every match. While this is great for competitive players, sometimes you just don’t feel like trying that hard, and currently we don’t provide any alternative to it.
Casual mode will not only provide this alternative, but it will also allow us to tailor each queue to better match its audience. This could include for example more relaxed circle timings in the casual mode, or reduced RNG in the ranked mode.
In addition to this we will improve training and look into adding a practice / warmup mode based around the prequeue gun game to create a more gentle learning curve for newer players.
SPEED & MOMENTUM
Right now, most of the action happens right after the drop and during the final confrontation. Experienced players are able to find a good amount of action in between, but even then the middle part of the game can feel a little uneventful and repetitive.
Beam drops and drones are two elements of the game that were supposed to help with this, but neither quite hit the mark. We are going to improve both dramatically, and a subset of those improvements will be released in earlier patches before the first major update.
On top of this though we are also putting the finishing touches on a design for a completely new mechanic that is designed to encourage and reward endless exploration and aggression. Again, we can’t wait to tell you more about this, and it won’t be too long before you will be able to try it out for yourself on the test server.
To round it all out we will be taking a close look at all current systems to ensure that the game flows well and rewards aggressive play.
OTHER GAMEPLAY IMPROVEMENTS
Aside from those major items, we will also polish and revisit every single game mechanic currently in the game. This starts with polishing controls like toggle mechanics but also includes more significant changes like smoothing out the hot drop experience by improving the landing sequence to get you into a combat-ready state much faster.
PUBLIC TEST SERVER
As I have mentioned a few times already, our plans include opening up a public test server as soon as possible. Similar to how we operated during closed alpha, we will be announcing specific dates for when the test servers open to test a brand new build. This will give everyone a chance to chime in on major gameplay changes before they happen, and it gives us a chance to properly evaluate whether they feel good enough to actually make it into the game. Of course builds will still go through QA and internal play tests before they make it to the public test server. We are aiming for high quality releases that are ready for you to have fun with and provide feedback on.
Aside from providing you with an early glimpse at what we are working on, those events will also be a great chance for the community to come together and get some good games in. This will of course happen in addition to, not as a replacement to, other scheduled community events and tournaments.
While our focus has primarily been on gameplay, we know that we also need to do better in the art department. Our primary objective will be to establish a coherent art direction that takes better advantage of our Sci-Fi setting, and to update the map with more interesting and unique locations.
We will also be improving character models and animations, while providing additional player customisation. While reworking and improving our art assets, we will of course also continuously and aggressively optimise performance.
We hear you, directional audio needs improvement, especially in terms of verticality. Work on improving this is already under way and of highest priority to us.
Aside from improving the game itself, we will also add additional reward systems. We’ll be starting with unique rewards for levelling up, daily quests, and achievements. Seasonal events including seasonal ranked rewards and seasonal quests are on the horizon.
To make sure that earning credits always feels rewarding, we will also be adding marketable skins that can be purchased with a large amount of credits. So even if you are the type of player who earns more credits than you can spend on crates, your extra credits won’t go to waste.
Our goals for 1.0 are ambitious, and implementing it all is going to take a good amount of time. That doesn’t mean that you will have to wait forever to see meaningful improvements.
While this roadmap describes our long term goals, we will be taking an iterative approach to look for the fastest possible ways to implement important parts of it on top of our already solid foundation. Every iteration is going to bring us closer to the goal, and every iteration will allow us to reevaluate the state of the game. Once we know that we have a winning formula, we will start rolling out the big guns of promotion.
As we gear up for the road to 1.0, we will have to improve many of our internal systems to become more efficient. The target is to grow the team by bringing in more developers, more leadership, and stronger marketing. We will grow along with the challenge, and so will our roadmap and estimates.
One of our next steps will be to create a rough timeline for when you can expect some of the larger improvements to be ready by. In the meantime we will aim to keep you all updated with regular status reports, and as soon as we have more concrete estimates ourselves, we will share them with you.
IDENTITY & FINAL WORDS
After talking so much about things that will change, let’s take a moment to speak about things that will NOT change. More specifically, what defines the true identity of IoN that will set us apart both from existing competitors and certain upcoming AAA shooters?
IoN is often described as a competitive shooter, but what that really means in a nutshell is that our focus is on core gameplay mechanics that are both fun to play with and which can be mastered for a satisfying competitive experience. We don’t aim to be the most immersive or most widely accessible Battle Royale, but to create exactly the sort of game that we and our core audience want to play. A game with excellent mechanics that are so simple that everyone can instantly jump in and start having fun, while at the same time being infinitely difficult to master.
We strongly believe that there is a market for this vision and that we will be able to carve out a healthy niche for ourselves amongst the heavyweight competition. We’ve achieved so much already with little more than perseverance and the amazing support of our community. That is exactly how we intend to move forward. We are in this for the long run, and step by step we are going to inch closer to the dream.
All that is left to say now is to express our heartfelt thanks for having faith in us. The road may be rocky at times, but it is the destination that will make all of it worthwhile.
Together we’ll get there!