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Feedback is King: How Turbo Tape Games is Fixing Warhammer: Arcane Magic

This post describes that challenges encountered by Turbo Tape Games after launch of their latest game, and how we involved the community to get gameplay, game economics and balancing right.
My name is Fredrik, and I am the founder and CEO of Turbo Tape Games. I’ve been an indie developer since 2008 -- learning the ropes of game development, publishing, and business development on the fly. Over the next few months, I’ll sort through a number of awesome stories and share the best ones with you here: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly . . . with a few amusing episodes in between. I can’t promise you these stories will arrive in any chronology or order. However, I will start with the latest one -- which started a little over a year ago, peaked right after launch, and which we are now standing knee deep in.
 
How It All Began
Back in early 2014, we launched UHR-Warlords on iOS. As a direct result of that launch, we were contacted by Games Workshop and soon afterward landed a deal for Warhammer: Arcane Magic -- which we have been working on ever since. Warhammer: Arcane Magic was subsequently launched on Tuesday, July 28th.
 
Warhammer Arcane Magic Logo
 
The press has been giving us some excellent reviews -- such as an 8/10 and Silver Award from Pocket Gamer, 4/5 from Touch Arcade, and 7.9/10 from Trading Card Games. Also, players that talk to us in forums seem to really enjoy the game. However, we made one mistake -- one horrible, devastating mistake. And that was to allow players to purchase Warpstone for Gold, which is available as an IAP.
 
Even if it is a bit of a spoiler, I’ll reveal the end right now: The day after launching the game, we rebuilt the app and submitted a new version to the App Store. The game you can buy there now has done away with all options to purchase Warpstone. Period. 
 
 
The Backlash
After launch, comments started coming in at a steady flow. They were not all negative. (It’s not like all of them mentioned the Warpstone purchase option.) However, before long, these discussions were dominating forums and the web sphere in general -- culminating in a (particularly angry) Angry Joe video on YouTube. We knew something was amiss, of course. 
 
An Exhalted Bloodthirster Daemon from Warhammer: Arcane Magic
 
We jumped in with both feet -- initially engaging the community at Touch Arcade (a community we know to be highly constructive and genuinely interested in playing great games). At Touch Arcade, we found ourselves confronted by accusations of deliberately having introduced a paywall not far into the game. The game was seen as fairly hard by some (which it is!) -- but the fact that many found it so hard that they ran completely out of Warpstone, and thus needed to reach for their credit cards, came at us like lightning in a clear sky.
 
 
What Went Wrong
In truth, the decision to make Warpstone available for gold had been a fairly casual one here during our design sessions. We had made an in-game gold system that was primarily intended to unlock spells. We balanced the gold reward system in such a way that a player would be able to unlock all spells of owned wizards through completing the game, and we made a progressive award system where the player would be able to unlock more powerful spells at just the right moment to address the increasing difficulty. Basically, the system provided more challenge as well as more tactical choices to tackle such challenges. The goal was to keep the game interesting even after players got through the two campaigns.
 
Warhammer Arcane Magic setup
 
“Warpstone for gold” was introduced at the spur of the moment when we (naively) decided that some players might want to do just that. The price was very, very low: 25 warpstone for 500 gold, enough for the entire game. Buying a full deck of spells for a wizard in Arcane Magic sets a player back 3,750 gold. (500G is the price of one of the second lowest priced spells.) Since we balanced the game to fill about two such decks per playthrough with gold to spare, we didn’t expect to earn much on selling gold for Warpstone. We thought it would only be seen (and welcomed) as a convenient feature for really casual players who wanted to rush through the campaign by healing throughout.
 
Were we so incredibly wrong. Facepalm!
 
We see this now, and it was our fault for sure. When people started making unproportioned purchases of Warpstone for earned gold, they also suffered double from not being able to buy spells -- which then made the situation take a turn for the worse, since new spells were intended to ease the increasing difficulty. This started a vicious cycle that led to more death, the need for more Warpstone, running out of gold -- in effect hitting a completely unintended paywall.
 
We did a lot of testing before we launched, but arguably not enough and not the right kind. For example, an extended soft launch would have been beneficial. We’re a small outfit, with few resources, and we tend to frequent communities that are similar (to ourselves and to each other); this is who we lean on for testing. I learned this lesson before in real life, in social media, and beyond. We all tend to think we are on top of all sorts of behaviors, preferences, motivations and ways of attacking a problem or a challenge -- but really, we’re not. By and large, we’re just skimming the surface and seeing the state of the ocean right before our eyes -- while just behind us, out of sight and out of reach, there is so much more.
 
In this particular situation, we had been testing with people that think alike: people that hoarded their gold, forfeited immediate options to protect their wizards, safeguarded Warpstone, bought spells as we had “intended” -- and came out on the other side not even knowing that gold was for sale in the game because they had so much of it. The mainstream gaming market, especially on mobile, is not filled with players like this. It is filled with all kinds of players, tackling our game in all kinds of ways.
 
 
We’re Listening
So what did we do? Well, we threw ourselves at the mercy of our community at Touch Arcade. After analyzing the criticism, we realized they were right . . . and we were wrong. And that is pretty much what we told them. We then suggested a list of corrections to the game code, asked if that would be good, and also if there were other important pieces of input they wanted to toss our way. Within hours, constructive feedback was pouring in.
 
Fighting Giants in Warhammer Arcane Magic
 
That same evening, we burned the midnight oil. There was no way we could address all the suggestions, and some were even in conflict with each other.  What we did, though, was once and for all removed all purchase of Warpstone for money. Next, we inserted a new mechanism of acquiring Warpstone in battle, through rolling what is called an “irresistible force” and by entering what is known as “Arcane Fulcrums.” If anyone ran out, there would always be ways to get more by replaying levels. We also made the Warpstone harvest methods perpetual so that no one would ever need to choke on lack of heal after failing a level and trying again.
 
Some of our fans, of course (which are like the testers above, of which there are many), now think the game is on the simple side. We’re working on that, too. Among other things, we’re making a difficulty system that will either limit the Warpstone amount that can legally be used in a level or that awards a star-based system based on Warpstone use (or not using it). These are only the very first steps. We’re continuing to engage with the community, and we may end up changing the Warpstone and gold systems completely due to all the amazing input we have received. That is a bit further down the line, but it goes to show that game development never stops. 
 
Elven Bridge in game    Daemons Fight in game
 
Before addressing the problems discussed above, I regarded Warhammer: Arcane Magic as a great game -- though one that was biased toward more “tactical” players. The changes we implemented will limit this bias and certainly make the game even better. And as one says, this is only the beginning. We’re 100% dedicated to Warhammer: Arcane Magic, our fans, players, and anyone who wants to chip in ideas and advice to make it better! Our goal is to make great games that people can properly enjoy, and make enough of them so that we can repeat the process ad infinitum :)
 
Hopefully, these lessons can help other indie developers out there. There are so many pitfalls to game development already that with limited resources, it’s next to impossible to see them all up front. This one came down hard and unexpectedly on us, for sure.
 
 
A New Beginning
On Thursday, August 6th, a new build without any option to purchase Warpstone for Gold (and where Warpstone is easier to come by) was made available in the App Store. The response was immediate. A couple hours after the update was approved, the comment below was posted to the original Touch Arcade thread:
 
“Personally speaking this update has completely transformed your game Turbotape. Frustration has been replaced with tense excitement. The game is immersive and atmospheric. Really like the spells and spell casting...and now I can save gold up to buy scrolls instead of Warpstones. Will go and put a five star review on App Store and a few other places.”
 
That warmed our hearts :)
We’ll continue to listen to the community about Warhammer: Arcane Magic on Touch Arcade and other places. Here’s the TA thread:
 
This will remain a great place to get in touch with us.
 
We can also be reached easily through our website: 
 
Deep forest encounter Warhammer Arcane Magic in game
 
 
What’s Next?
The next item on the agenda is to introduce difficulty settings, which some users have requested. For later versions, we will look more closely at how healing works at the core. Since we don't have anything solid just yet, a number of ideas are still on the table. We’d love to hear your input!
 
 
Turbo Tape Games logo

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