In the last blog entry we talked about modding and the importance of the community’s contribution for the success of Train Fever. This time we will give you some insight into how we handle feedback and suggestions. We will illustrate in what way it influences the development of the game.
A considerable part of the feedback reaches us directly via email. We keep a close eye on our forums and the Steam discussions page. In addition we participate in the forums run by our dedicated community. Gameplay videos, Steam reviews and tests from game magazines are other valuable sources. Furthermore, reports are generated when the game crashes. Players can opt to let these reports be sent automatically to us.
Reading through all the comments is a time-consuming process, but it is crucial to improve the game according to the players’ opinions. We accumulate all the feedback and divide the collected data into various categories, including new features, improvements or bug fixes.
Bug fixes have the highest priority. The automatic sending of crash reports allows for finding and isolating bugs in real time, and we can react to problems very quickly. A comprehensive stock of diverse hardware helps us to test Train Fever and reproduce errors or problems. The systems range from consumer Laptops up to devices equipped with the latest processors and graphic cards. We run various versions of Windows, Mac OS and Linux to cover the most common hard- and software combinations.
After sorting the bugs by severity and estimating the time and effort to resolve them, we work on a solution with very high priority. If it is a critical bug, it will be released immediately as a hotfix, otherwise we decide what we will include in the next game update along with the fixes.
As opposed to bug fixes, handling feedback in regard to new features is a more difficult process. In addition to our own (huge) feature wish list, players send us lots of feature suggestions. Hardcore players are important, as they deliver most of the feedback, but we are always happy to see everybody being involved. If so, we get a more representative picture, and it is easier to estimate if a certain feature is really requested by the masses.
New features come with obstacles we have to overcome. Players often share great ideas with us, but they can not specify the exact way it should be implemented. With new mechanics, we always face the possibility of them having an unfavorable impact on the gameplay. Rebalancing the whole game might be needed.
An adaption of the data structure, which determines how games states are saved and loaded, can be necessary. A lot of effort has to be put into assuring old save games load correctly. We also need to consider the big amount of mods available – they still have to work after an update.
One thing we learned is that releasing a patch which includes any kind of restriction compared to the previous version is always a bad idea. When we introduced the so-called main connections – a feature intended to prevent cheating – many players were not happy with this change. Finally, we made another patch which added the option to disable the new main connection feature.
Certain improvements can represent a big challenge. We have released several performance patches, yet we are still not completely satisfied. Due to the complex simulation Train Fever is very demanding, especially in regard to pathfinding and town growth in the late game.
Assigning resources to bug fixing and improving the game sometimes leaves us less time for new features than we would like to have. A long list of features was waiting since the release, but we had to delay them, like the waypoint system for trains or the vehicle filter.
A little known fact about Train Fever is that some fundamental mechanics are based on external feedback. Initially, when the crowd-funding campaign for Train Fever started in 2012, the game design only contained passenger transport. However, the backers made it very clear that they want to transport cargo, too.
Since recently, we are working on what will come after Train Fever, and the feedback we get is very useful to prepare for that. Some work can be used for both the current and the upcoming game, which safes a lot of time and avoids splitting resources. In a couple of cases we concluded that it is not possible to adapt the current game without risking to trigger one of the mentioned problems. We direct these ideas to our next project.
Feedback is very important to us. In that context let us say thank you for your comments on our last entry and showing us your interest. We have a lot of topics we still want to cover. The same applies as for new game features: Let us know what you want us to talk about! It helps to determine what you are interested in. So feel free to leave a comment!
Next time we will focus on the release of Train Fever. It was a very delicate and exciting process. We would like to share what we experienced.