Highgrounds Update From Devs (Archive From Forums — 3/15/17)

Hi everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve responded in the Highgrounds forum — we’re a small team that’s trying to accomplish a lot across all of our games, and it’s easy to miss some of the conversation that happens here. I’ll definitely work on participating more often.

I want to address a few threads that have popped up asking why we have not continued with updates to the game over the past year. We’re all about being open and honest, and in Highgrounds case it has very little to do with our desire to keep improving the game, and more to do with how the game sells. The reality is that Highgrounds makes little to no money for us. We are lucky to break even each month between our server costs and sales, which are both in the range of a few hundred dollars. If you take into account the time we spend with customer support, dealing with cheaters/hackers, we lose money on keeping Highgrounds alive. And the majority of the money we make comes from a small set of our most passionate players (which we’re extremely grateful for).

But even with that picture, we love the game, love our community, and continue to maintain Highgrounds so that the game can still be played and enjoyed. But the reality is that given how limited our resources are as a team, it isn’t feasible for us to put more of our time into Highgrounds, compared to newer projects that have more potential to bring in revenue, that can continue to allow us to make games at all.

It is definitely possible that there are improvements or major changes that could improve our revenue picture, but it isn’t clear what those would be. When we were in active development, we tried everything to try to change that financial picture. Much of the issue with the game is that it has a high enough initial learning curve that we turn off a lot of our initial players. Many of you will remember the myriad of changes we made to our reward systems, new user experience, etc in the past. None of it moved the needle there. We spent a lot of time and resources doing that (6 to 9 months). We also thought the issue may have been that we needed more content/characters, but our last expansion set did not result in many sales despite all of the effort we put in.

If we get lucky in the future with other games, I’d really love to come back to Highgrounds, even if we would be losing money to make improvements. I have a long list of things I’d love to try to make the game better. I am personally extremely proud of the Highgrounds design, and think it holds up in fun-factor in comparison to the many online CCGs that have been released since Highgrounds first came out. But unfortunately right now we’re not in a position as a company to spend a significant part of our development time on the game. I wish I had better news for you, but I’d rather be honest with you then try to give false hopes that major changes are on the short term horizon.

We can’t thank you all enough for the support you’ve given us over the years, and I hope this post sheds some light on why there hasn’t been much update activity on the game.

Happy to answer any other questions you all have!
Scott Brodie
Lead Designer, Founder
Highgrounds

(P.S. That doesn’t mean we want the discussions on how to improve the game to stop! It’s been helpful to hear everyone’s feedback on how the game could be improved, even if we can’t act on it)

FAQ

What if I hammered out solutions to all balancing and underutilized units that simply required stat adjustments? Surely, you could make stat adjustments to a multitude of units in just an hour or so. Then, all that would remain to close the exploits would be fixing snipe and gamble. Surely, that could be done in a single day. Could you please do this much for us??? One day of effort would literally double the viability of Highgrounds! That’s no exaggeration. It really would.

I appreciate all of the feedback and discussion going on and I wanted to address a few of the points. Unfortunately, as much as I’d like it to be true, your assumptions about the cost and time of making changes is incorrect. I’m also skeptical, based upon past data, that any unit balance changes would have a significant impact on the financial viability of Highgrounds (but agree it would hopefully remove some frustration for our existing players).

Updating the game at this point would not be a 1-day effort. The code is in Flash, which I haven’t touched in multiple years, and would have to refresh my knowledge. Our development environment would also have to be setup on our new systems, which has gone through many updates on it’s own. It is also run on a backend service which has since updated/made obsolete some of our servercode, so any update would have to refactor how we currently do things just to re-release what we already have live. Then beyond that, I’d have to re-acclimate myself to the code, identify the gameplay issues (not likely fast), get a repro case, verify that all of the changes do not cause new bugs, test it with other people, etc. Then do the same for all of our other platform versions (Kongregate, Armor Games, Newgrounds, etc), and ensure none of their specialized APIs haven’t changed since then (they likely have), and so on. I wish game development was easier than this, but it’s not.

Even if this were to hypothetically take a week, there is an opportunity cost to choosing to work on Highgrounds vs anything else. I have two brand new games I am working on simultaneously, along with other prototypes and pitches that could use attention. Some of these games have meaningful milestones/timeframes that make them a high priority. Then there are updates & support work to be done for Hero Generation’s many versions. For example, our communities on iOS, Android, Steam, Ouya, and Humble Bundle are equally if not more vocal then the Highgrounds community about receiving updates and bug fixes. And sadly, each of the other projects I’ve described would simply bring in more revenue than Highgrounds, so it is very hard for me (being the solo developer/designer at this point) to prioritize the above work.

Regrading the suggestions about donations/crowdfunding to fix bugs and rebalance: first, I really appreciate your desire to help, and the few of you that have purchased Gems recently to show your support. I have considered the idea, but have not acted on it because I feel it would be a short-term band aid for a larger issue. What really needs to happen is to have the game re-written in a modern engine like Unity, have the game redesigned from the ground up to fix all of the issues with retention & meta game, setup to create content more efficiently, rewrite how the game communicates with the serverside to remove security vulnerabilities, and structured to work on new platforms like mobile so that we can expand our audience. All of that is a much larger funding effort that would require a long term runway for servers & support, and we’re just not in a place to take that on. So I’d rather not get everyone’s hopes up that we would do meaningful updates to Highgrounds after taking a small set of donations.

To reiterate, if one of our other titles really takes off, it would give us more cushion to consider doing updates to Highgrounds even if they didn’t make financial sense. But as it stands, I’m not in a position to divert meaningful time away from games that will keep Heart Shaped Games afloat. I say all of this just to be honest about why we haven’t done Highgrounds updates to date, and not at all to say that Highgrounds isn’t a great game with a great community that we care about.

I appreciate you looking for creative ways to improve the game. The things we have the ability to change without touching code are things that are not baked into the “client” (the flash swf). In hindsight I wish more had been exposed on the serverside as data, but we only have a small set of things. Specifically we can change the prices in gems of packs in the store + their descriptions (that’s how we can still do sales); the types of Gem Packages (though I think we may have some client “double checks” that prevent us from doing a ton with that either); the welcome message for new players; and a few old weekly tournament variables.

We also have tools that let us access player’s game collections and stats for customer support purposes. The Yahoo migration you mentioned were done by hand on an individual basis, using that system. There isn’t much I can do without code to accomplish what you are asking.