As we approach the 6 month anniversary of Bleeding Edge's full launch, I thought it would be interesting to discuss what's next for the game's future, as well as looking into a few realistic ideas that could potentially improve the quality of the game, the atmosphere surrounding the game and how the game is displayed to new players.
I don't think it's any secret that the game currently breeds a bit of a toxic environment. An article that echoed an interview with Creative Director Rahni Tucker shortly before the full launch of the game resurfaced in the official Discord recently, which detailed hopes of making a more "friendly, enjoyable and playful" online competitive experience. There's no denying that the colourful artstyle and wacky undertone of the roster reflects that ambition. And I honestly think, for the most part, this goal was achieved during the Alpha. Most games concluded with a virtual handshake and a friendly discussion in the community Discord. A lot of the regulars began recognising and mutually respecting each other, whilst still accepting and encouraging brand new players who were learning the ropes. The presence of the developers themselves organising, teaching, communicating and relaxing in-game contributed towards forming a tight-knit, welcoming community as well.
Fast forward to the present day - there are cliques, grudges, leavers, unsportsmanlike behaviour, flaming in every match, games are thrown, new players are gatekept into learning anything, the list goes on. The game no longer feels inclusive like it used to at all. And I really don't think it's a coincidence that developer interaction, both in-game and outside, has drastically decreased in correlation with the increase in community unrest/toxicity, especially with the context of the above article in mind.
So how did we end up here? And how can we improve on the situation we're in?
Tetris himself reminded us in a recent thread of the options in place to combat and reduce toxicity in games. Whilst that is effective and essential, it's about the bare minimum in online games nowadays, and there's certainly more the game could do both within the game itself and the community in order to bring the it closer to the ultimate goal of a more "friendly, enjoyable and playful" environment as mentioned in the article above.
One of the biggest contributors, in my opinion, is the fact that every player is currently chucked into the same matchmaking playlist. At this stage in the game, there are so many unique categories of players - brand new players who are looking to kill a bit of time and just want to have fun, brand new players who are looking for a new competitive challenge, returning players who enjoy the game but aren't typically skillful or competitive, returning players that need a competitive incentive, etc etc. There is a matchmaking system in place designed to match similarly skilled players against each other. But that can't read a player's mindset. You need, at minimum, everyone on your team all to be pulling in the same direction in order to get the most enjoyment out of the game. It's not fun when you want to win in a competitive environment when your teammate wants to try Nidhoggr for the first time in the 30 mins he plays a video game every week. And that is compounded even further when the playerbase is as low as it is right now - you have even less of a chance of matching with another 7 players all with equal mindset and purpose. And I ultimately think this has a drastic effect on the amount of toxicity there is in the game.
In order to improve on this, I think splitting the playerbase into separate playlists where they can choose where to be themselves and play with like-minded people would help a lot. Firstly, Ranked. This would be for competitive players who want to take the game seriously, communicate with others and prioritise winning. I would also recommend splitting this playlist into Solos and Squads to improve the quality and balance of matches and to appeal to a larger set of players. Secondly, Quick/Casual. This would remain exactly the same, or at least very similar to the core Ranked playlist, however it will emphasise non-serious gameplay and serve the purpose of prioritising fun. This is for the players who don't necessarily want to sweat it out every single match, test new characters or mod loadouts whilst learning the game in a fun, relaxed environment. Thirdly, Arcade. This could be something that all audiences can participate in that offers something different to anything else. This can be where Map Mods cycle, as well as other unique experiences where the developers can get really creative, like 2 second cooldowns or no character limits!
Does this not sound like a much more positive environment, whilst remaining relatively realistic?
The problem with this in the current climate is that the low playerbase simply cannot support several playlists. It should've been done a lot sooner. Of course that's easy to say now, and I understand the limitations of the developer team on top of a global pandemic. So I think a marketing push needs to be made ALONGSIDE this.
Another thing in relation to toxicity that needs resolving is leaving matches during the team announcement pre-lobby without punishment. It is quite common for players to "Alt+F4" out of a lobby as soon as they witness an unfavorable match up or play with/against people that they don't get along with. And I think the penalty for leaving itself needs revising. Reducing rewards for example - there are several players that are at a point where they either don't care about the rewards, or they have all the cosmetics they want. I don't think this is incentive enough for people to stay in matches anymore.
Marketing - Xbox Series X?.
We're at a point in the game's life cycle where it needs to attract more players. Not just for the benefit and longevity of the game itself, but for the quality of matches that current players experience. A huge number of key additions that could vastly improve the quality of this game can only really be effective if more people are playing. I made a post recently discussing if the game could go free to play in order to bypass the hefty base price without Game Pass and increase overall numbers. Overall, I don't think it's likely for several reasons (you can read that post at the bottom of this thread: https://forum.bleedingedge.com/topic/1631/make-this-game-f2p )
What I do think is a great opportunity that does a lot of the marketing for you, however, is the upcoming release of the next-generation Xbox Series X/S. I think this is a perfect opportunity to provide an upscale in resolution, frame rate and overall optimisation, whilst providing Smart Delivery and being at the forefront of Xbox's Game Pass for next-generation. With this, many new players will be looking for new games to play alongside their new console. This will be a perfect opportunity to really attract new players, and make the necessary adjustments, some of which I've discussed on here, in order to really elevate and popularise this game - because the potential is there! The core game is excellent and not many people disagree with that even if they've ended up with a negative experience overall. I mean, the game isn't even listed under "Games" on Ninja Theory's own website, come on!! This game could be so much more with a little more ambition.
We are desperate for more community support. It's been 2 months since we've heard anything about the game other than a couple of bug fixes (which we were never even given any patch notes for, it's something we had to figure out ourselves!). The Bleeding Edge social medias are extremely inactive. Even little things like reposting fan-art goes a long way, or polls about our favourite fighters, it doesn't have to be exclusively for content updates. Jibber Jabber has disappeared, what are the characters up to?? What about talking to the community in the Discord, or an AMA on the game's subreddit? The developers were unbelievably active with the community during the Alpha with all of this and a huge credit to them for that, it's one of my highlights in gaming. What happened to that? What about that amazing video you guys created of a 4v4 between yourselves that only ever got viewed by about 20 members of the community? More of that, or even a repost of that specific video, would be awesome!
Not just more content to give to the community from you, the developers, but give the community more spotlight, and encourage content for the game! You can't even share a stream of Bleeding Edge in the Discord, in fact you get banned for doing so! I'd LOVE to see the in-game Watch Zone become a community hub of sorts and it's always something I've wanted to push for. Wouldn't it be awesome to promote a Bleeding Edge stream from the Watch Zone itself, or to take submissions from the community each week for a Bleeding Edge video to be showcased! How about an official Bleeding Edge tournament as well? The game is MADE for regular competitive tournaments, and we have the means to do it now with Customs. That would be great marketing in itself, showcasing the best gameplay from the community!
One thing I would also like to suggest that I feel would be quite important. I feel like you guys need someone, or a group of people, within the community that you can report to weekly with feedback that reflects the whole community. Feedback such as balancing, overall game experience, bug fixes, quality of life improvements. I know you have the "Bleeding Edge Helpers", but with all due respect to them, I know they monitor and moderate the community occasionally and I don't know much else that goes on behind the scenes, they do not play the game week in week out, and you need someone to really paint a picture on what the experience is currently like for the average player. Someone "from the trenches". Something that is apparent to me is the speed in which you receive information. There are bugs that we know about weeks before you do. There are bugs in the game that require very quick fixes that would improve the game massively, yet they've existed for months. Personally, I'd love to be able to help out.
As far as I am aware, the game currently operates under a "ping lock" of sorts. Meaning that if your ping passes a certain threshold, you are unable to matchmake to that region or server. This was in an attempt to reduce rubberbanding and increase overall stability in games. However, this affected a lot of players at the time who were in parties with players from all around the world. Just having one player in a party of 4 who was in another region often meant that the entire party could no longer matchmake together. As time has passed, this has also increasingly had an effect on every region outside of EU and NA due to the lower playerbases in the other regions. Meaning the game itself is currently stopping a large number of players from even matchmaking at all, or matchmaking within reasonable queue times. I really think it would be worth revisiting this strategy. While I know very little about networking, and I'm sure this was all considered before making the decision you did, I do think it's slightly unfair, and overall unhealthy for the game, that a percentage of players cannot play - and a lot of them did not even suffer too badly from poor network connections in the first place. One thing that's really pleasing about this game is the diversity within the characters. I think you're doing the game and your audience a disservice by not allowing certain players to experience the representation of their culture in a video game.
Please let me know your thoughts, as well as anything else you'd like to add!