Realm of Empires: Warlords Rising Beta - Answering First Impressions

HELLO FELLOW STRATEGISTS!

It has been a long while since you've heard much from me! I wanted to share with you what has been happening at Realm of Empires over the last year or so because, well, we've been busy!

As you already know, we released the Realm of Empires Mobile App in 2013. We are happy to see so many people enjoy playing it! So one could say, year 2013 was the year of Mobile. 

Year 2014, shall be the year of the desktop! Our desktop interface was born in 2008, when browsers were much less powerful. It is an old school interface, slow, and well, the gray background could have been nicer! Things that can be done now were literally unimaginable six years ago. 

This year, we had the opportunity to create an amazing new interface for our desktop players! From this, Realm of Empires: Warlords Rising has been born. It is now being tested with a small group of beta players, but we hope to open it for everyone very soon.



Realm of Empires: Warlords Rising is a product of over a year of intense development. Our goal with this major update was not to implement new game changes, or to throw in eye candy. Warlords Rising has been designed from the beginning specifically to make managing larger empires easier, to make waging larger wars easier. It is a result of literally watching many of you play, hearing your concerns and your feedback. 

The current desktop interface facilitates more of a village-based play, with the map being secondary. However, we've found that once you capture a few villages (and even more so when you have dozens!), players start playing mostly off the map. Wars are planned and fought on the map. Troops are recruited, villages are built geographically. While you interact with the village at first almost exclusively, soon you treat each village as an army on a field. This of course make total sense. Realm of Empires is not a village building game, but an empire building game.

Based on those observations, we have designed  Realm of Empires: Warlords Rising to be more map-central, to facilitate empire-based play from the beginning. 

We know the new UI will be different - at first

We will do all in our power to make the transition as easy as possible, but some difficulty with change is inevitable. It is not easy to move from one user interface (UI) to another.

With one village the new UI, although prettier and faster, can seem more like a nuisance in some ways! At first it seems more like a scavenger hunt - lets look for familiar buttons on a new UI. But we believe that as you grow used to things you will find they are at least as good, and often better than the original UI.

To help you master the new UI, we've put together a reference card and a handy FAQ to assist  you. Check them out!
         

The power of the new UI becomes apparent as you expand your empire

The really cool stuff in the new UI becomes evident as you grow your empire. The incoming and outgoing troops refresh on their own. Attacks come in and update without the need to refresh the screen (so do reports, mail etc). The war room allows you to attack from many villages quickly (like one-click attack but better). Visualizing a war, and your entire empire is much easier on a dynamic map, as you will no doubt find out!

So it is a new UI? But we wanted archers!

As silly as this may sound at first, we are proud that this is just a new UI! In fact, it is a new UI precisely because we listened to you guys. While adding flaming archers,races and other game play changes is exciting (and so hard for us to resist!), you've frequently told us that the game gets too time consuming or difficult to play with time. With this UI, and other changes, we are trying to address those concerns. We wanted to first give you a great UI, then work on game changes within a great framework. Our main focus right now, is to make playing the current game easier and less time consuming. Super cool game play changes are coming, but after we have a solid base on stand on. 

But I like things the way they are! Stop changing things!

Do not worry! You can continue to play within the interface you are familiar with - the new interface is optional. You can go back to the original desktop interface and back to the new one, back and forth with one button click.

Of course not all is yet completed! 

Not even close! But with the core of the new UI in place, the possibilities are amazing. You will see frequent releases with significant improvements in 2015! We will work closely with you guys, to prioritize these improvements and changes.

Let me leave you with just this one image. Here is an actual screen shot of the map in the new UI, of the beta realm. This is the real map, interactive and all! It is not yet fully "the mapper", but it is certainly getting there!
(click the image for full size version)

Did I say one image? I meant two. Here is the map, dual screen version, from an old prototype that I've posted on my facebook long ago

ROE Mobile, Developer's Log

Earth date 4.26.2013

HELLO FELLOW STRATEGISTS!

Realm of Empires mobile companion app is almost ready to launch! Some of you have already downloaded it, in fact, in spite of the big “DO NOT DOWNLOAD” sign and a whopping $1.99 download cost which we thought would discourage everyone! :)

As you may have read in my previous developer's log post, we've developed the app in HTML5, thus allowing us to be on more mobile platforms quicker. We will be launching on Android first, then soon after that on the iPhone.
Launching on Android first, soon on the IPhone
Next, we hope to bring the app to BlackBerry and Windows 8 devices. We will also modernize the desktop version – including releasing our amazing new map! The desktop version will get much, much quicker and easier to use - prettier too. :)

>> The good, the bad and the ugly - what works well, what will get better <<

As alluded to in my previous post, we had hoped to offer you very similar game play on mobile as on
desktop. We wanted all power features to be there, and we wanted to make it easy to perform all the functions in your empire.

Unfortunately, we are not there... yet. Many power features are still missing, like summary pages or mass features. Also, the interface -this is critical to understand - is not yet optimized for managing a large empire. We had so many issues and interesting hurdles with cutting edge HTML5, that we've decided to first concentrate on getting things running well in general. In this first release, we've focused on the early game play – up to about 10 or 20 villages.

Things like recruiting all troops from one page, or upgrading all buildings on one page are not yet available. Why? Because its a lot more manageable to work out many wrinkles with fewer pages, popups, and interface functions.

So when it comes time to defend against 100 attacks, or recruit in 100 villages, please don’t get frustrated – it will become easier to do shortly!

>> AWESOME NEW NOTIFICATIONS! <<

Mobile devices give us a chance to send you important notifications such as incoming attacks. This is much more reliable than email. I am very excited to be able to offer you much improved notifications system that allows you to select what notifications you want.
Ever wondered if a person you are stewarding is under attack? Well, now there is a notification for this! The account owner must enable attack notifications, you must enable steward attack notifications, and voila! You will be a very good steward. :)

We were really focusing on creating a snappy interface. I believe we've achieved that on IPhone. Android is still lagging a bit behind IPhone as to HTML5 support and the game runs slower. We will keep working hard to improve performance and optimization!

Data entry on small screens is not easy. We wanted to provide really innovative ways of entering data for such functions as attacks, communication, recruitment etc. Again, this is hard to make perfect and we are still perfecting the interface. Over the next little while, you will see this improve significantly with a few innovative solutions already in the works for things like attacking.

>> Game play not the same on mobile as on desktop <<

The important things to keep in mind is that the game plays differently on the phone than on the desktop. There is no way to simulate
a large/multiple screens + multiple browser tabs + keyboard and mouse experience on small devices. It is very hard to allow you to send attacks with the same precision and volume as on the desktop. It is much harder to write long emails on a small mobile keyboard. We are already working on many improvements but we  also hope you guys can provide us with a lot of feedback and ideas - the sooner we get the app in front of you guys, the sooner we'll be able to make it better.

If you primarily play on the desktop, this will be a companion app for you. But we plan to offer realms for mobile devices only and we are really excited and eager to find out how the game-play will change when played exclusively on the mobile!

So, please keep in mind that the mobile app is still in its infancy and please take the time to send in your feedback. Please download the app when it becomes available, and help us make it better!


Oh, and before I forget – please give us a good ( ideally a 5 star! ) rating on the app stores! We know we've got lots of wrinkles to work out, but a good rating will go along way towards a better RoE. We love making this game for you guys, and enjoy playing it ourselves, but we have a very limited advertising budget and rely almost exclusively on word of mouth promotion. If you like the game, and want to see it grow and be awesome, please give us a 5 star rating! Many thanks in advance!


Cheaters Beware! Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I introduced one of the new tools we have to catch cheating and gave a quick overview of cheating in Realm of Empires. Today, I would like to elaborate on the types of cheating we’ve observed.
mikerinder-cheater-300x267Most of the cheating involves using multiple accounts
 
Realm of Empires is designed so that one player controls just one account on a Realm. Certainly being able to control more accounts and thus more silver production and troops is a big advantage and an irresistible option for some. They create -or otherwise get control of- other accounts and use them to their advantage.


 HOW PLAYERS CHEAT

“Purse Snatchers”

Unsophisticated cheaters create multiple accounts to send silver and troops to their “real” account. Eventually they take over all the villages of their fake accounts. This is very easy to spot. Not much to say except, “what the heck were you thinking?!"

Example: We had one player who created over fake 80 Facebook accounts. Each was named similarly, were started next to the 'main' account, and were exploited to benefit that one account. Just creating so many accounts seems obsessive-compulsive, but to login to each account daily is just plain stupid.

 

“Wise Guys”

More sophisticated cheaters will also create or take control of multiple accounts, but will not cheat in obvious ways. They will lay low, playing each account independently - at first. They will use the fake account to infiltrate enemy clans, attack enemies, etc.. Basically, they try to appear as separate people playing each account. 


HOW PLAYERS CREATE / CONTROL MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS 

 

Simple and Stupid

The simplest method -but also the easiest to spot- is to create multiple Facebook accounts. (Note that this can also get you in trouble with Facebook and your free e-mail provider)

Family and Friends 

 

“My mom, dad and sister and brother play and we are all attacking the same guy… seriously… I am not cheating.” You have no idea how often we heard this explanation! 

 

To avoid having to create fake Facebook account, and to give legitimacy to the other account, some players have their family or room-mates enter the game and then use those accounts as their own. That is also easy to spot, although it can sometimes be more difficult to prove foul play.

Stewardship

Kingdom kitty_gives_helping_hand.png (496×333) - Google Chrome (03-02-2013 14.42.44)Stewardship, a wonderful feature, was quickly exploited by cheaters. This is why over the years we had to severely limit what stewards can do. At first, stewards could do everything the account owner could do. Rules were in place to prevent obvious abuses such as coordinated attacks between a stewarded account and the steward's own account.

Such rules proved to be extremely hard to enforce, and after countless brain storming sessions, we decided that we rules were not enough. We had to limit what a steward can do, so now stewards cannot attack or support other players. This is a very lengthy topic on its on, but in the nutshell - stewardship was exploited, and we had no choice but to limit its powers to prevent cheating. I still remember the many lively debates with players on top topic!

I will add one more thing: Stewardship allowed a person who had never intended to cheat to be tempted into cheating. Sometimes a player leaving Realm of Empires would give another stewardship and leave. The steward would then have the whole arsenal of the other player at his fingers tips… such power is difficult to resist!

Account Sharing

 

When we set limitations on stewardship, a new form of cheating came to the forefront - account sharing. Players would share their Facebook login, either temporarily or long term, to allow one player to control multiple account.

This is strictly against Facebook's own rules, and can get a player banned from their Facebook account if they are caught. It's worth mentioning that many times the players who report this form of cheating are the very ones who gave their login information away... only to be betrayed by the person they trusted to run their empire.

Crime Don’t Pay, Boy!

If you snatch an old lady’s purse once, you may get away from it. But if you make it your business to do it regularly, eventually you will get caught. 1angry kitty.jpg - Windows Photo Viewer (03-02-2013 14.30.45)How often have you heard: “the suspects got too greedy leading to their arrest.” 
 
Well, it is very hard to not get too greedy cheating in Realm of Empires, and impossible to get a large advantage from an occasional purse snatching.
When players allow themselves to cheat, they keep cheat over a very long time in similar ways, and eventually clear patterns emerge.
This is critical to understand: Inexperienced cheaters are trivial to catch, and the sophisticated ones will still eventually get caught because we can see lifetime patterns of play. Even if they do not get on our radar right away, they will eventually get greedy, make a mistake and get reported by other players.

Even with account sharing, login patters show very clearly and easily what is the real situation - either your room mate is a Siamese twin, or you are cheating. Either your mom, dad, sister all check their account at 3pm after school, or you are a kid playing them all.

With months of history, clear patterns emerge making it plain to spot cheating. We are creatures of regularity and no matter how much you try, given enough time, a patter eventually emerges. It is not only login patterns but play patterns, communication, everything and anything you do in game.

Cheating - The “Human Cost”… Oh No!

 

Unfortunately, the more sophisticated cheaters can do a lot of damage before they are caught. They can often eliminate and discourage many players before we can react. It is very difficult to have much compassion for a player who has ruined the game for many others. In such cases, we ban players permanently. An illegitimately acquired empire will be cast into abandonment, left for legitimate players to pick apart at their leisure.

Thank you for sticking with me this long! In part 3, I hope to give you a history of the arsenal of tools we developed to catch cheating players and make the game a better one for everyone else!



















Cheaters Beware! Part 1


Clip from For Richer Or Poorer (good movie btw!)



Jr IRS Agent : Sir, I may be new at this, but I don't think we shoot people for cheating on their taxes!
Sr. IRS Agent : Oh, you are right.... you are new at this.
commic relief  


Last week, I finally snapped, and personally updated one of our “cheater-finding” tools (at Realm of Empires, we do not believe in political correctness)

It was not an easy decision when you are just getting ready to launch ROE mobile, a product of many months of hard work. But our support team finally gave me the kick I needed, showing me how hard it is for them to investigate one particular issue.  



The problem

It was very slow and cumbersome to investigate attacks made by player, or set of players. We either had to 
  1. sift through reports, one at a time
  2. or look at way too much detail in a  database-level report


The solution - battle log!

We've created a persistent, detailed log of attacks, with all relevant information in one place - who attacked whom, with what strength, who supported at this time and with what troops, results etc etc






It was at this time that I again realized how much effort goes into making Realm of Empires a fair game. Unlike big studios, we don’t have a dedicated team for this; we have to pull developers from other tasks.

We expend a lot of effort to keep the game fair
This is a big topic, and I hope to give you an overview of what we do, and of bit of history in a multi-part blog.

Why players cheat?

Realm of Empires is an aggressive, highly competitive game. I play competitively as well, and I know full well the adrenalin rush, when you are about to make that risky move that could cost you your empire. I also experienced the anger and frustration when a player fights back in a way that suggest cheating (a strangely immediate counter attack from multiple, similarly named players, for example)

If it quacks and walks like a cheaters, well... it is sometimes not a cheater

Having been in this situation, I personally used our tools to analyze such players to get a better idea of the state of the game, better understand players, our perception of possible cheating etc.

Often, well, you just pissed off a very good player, with a very well organized clan. Perhaps a clan with a pre-determined plan of action for many scenarios - one for all, all for one.

Often, players reported to us as “cheaters” are not really cheating at all. They are just very, very good, with very good network of friends and clan mates. However, some players are cheating and we investigate all your reports, as well as proactively look for such players.


Some players play together for so long, that they actually choose similar names in new realms to show their solidarity.


From purse snatchers to battle hardened, cyber criminals!

Some players cheat in obvious ways, some got to extraordinary ways to cover their tracks. Over time, we’ve sent countless development hours and built an array of tools. 

However, more on this, in the next part!

Blog shall return in “part 2, of the blog”

[ this was a geeky bond reference if anyone missed it! :) ]

P.S. The movie clip included in this blog is a movie recommendation from the author of this blog. Players should not read into any hidden messages, and mostly likely the Realm of Empires team shall beat Greg a little bit on monday for even including it.

A Tale Of Two Cities

Welcome back!

Yesterday we talked about the new version of research. Today, our menu consists of cities.

The idea of cities first entered the game last RX2, alongside the a new features known as "consolidation." In a nut shell, consolidation is a planned reduction in both the number of villages and the size of a realm, for the purpose of speeding up the end-game. Reducing the number of villages in proportion means that player power stays roughly the same, but what a player can achieve in an evening of attacks is greatly increased.

If your opponent has 400 villages, capturing four means almost nothing. If they have 40, by contrast, taking four villages is meaningful and damaging.

So, how do cities enter into this? Well, no one likes to lose something they've fought to build. For most players, the number of villages in their empire is the single most important indicator of their power within the game. It's a high score, and it matters. During RX2, two things changed for cities - point values and map icons. Player feedback was pretty clear, that just wasn't enough. Cities needed to feel more powerful than villages. They needed to represent the progress of an empire... not a step backward to facilitate overall gameplay.

As of right now, we haven't locked down exactly what the final version of cities will look like. Actually, let me say that again in bold so no one misses it. :P  As of right now, we haven't locked down exactly what the final version of cities will look like.

We're testing a bunch of things, though. Some will make the cut, and some won't. Here are the highlights.

  • Increased farm capacity. Right now we're looking at a 20% bump. That may not seem like a lot, but it stacks multiplicatively with both research and bonus villages. 
  • New building levels. One way to spend your new farm space will be further upgrading key structures. New levels will be few, but provide a noticeable increase in each building's capabilities, at a somewhat hefty food cost. I'm told that this potentially includes Palace levels, for those of you tired of waiting hours to recruit the fat, well-dressed buggers. (This section could change a LOT in testing, so don't quote me six months from now. Please. =P )
  • Bonus village shuffle. We're working on making sure that if a bonus village is removed to promote a city, that city gains the bonus village's ability. No, this won't let you stack multiple bonuses into one place - though I admit that would be cool. But it will keep people from losing bonus villages when cities come along, and it will provide a greater strategic incentive to go after them early.
(We're still working out whether to do any realm size reductions, increase troop speeds, or other geography altering variations. Same with the exact village to city ratio. A lot of that will actually depend on how big R24 gets to be.... something we can't directly control.)

My personal take is that these changes are going to make the later stages of Realm 24 a wild, wild ride. If you've been clamoring for a genuinely different experience, this is the realm you've been waiting for. All of the excitement of early game expansion, but with a dramatically revamped mid and end-game. It may not be perfectly balanced. Someone might end up with a 4,000 knight city. The earth may tremble and locusts may devour all the green fields.

OK, maybe not that last part. Probably. The point is, the end game is going to have 150% more awesome than ever before. For me, at least, that makes it worth checking out.

On research past and present

R24 will introduce a number of changes, but one of the biggest will be to the research system.

Up until now, research has been pretty much a chore. I'm not sure there's a better way to say it. It didn't really matter what path you followed, and you just ended up in the same place as everyone else anyways. Even the timing wasn't terribly important... researching casually with just one or two researchers, most players finished within a month.

And that was that.


For this realm, we're trying something quite a bit different. 

  • Higher base silver and recruitment speeds.  This means a quicker start, and it also means that the effects of research are proportionately greater later on.
  • Rebalanced research options.  Less essential structures get a bigger bang for your research buck.
  • It's over 9000. OK, not quite. But the research bonuses keep going... and going... up to 150% or more.

What does this all mean? Well, it means that your technology choices now matter. While for the first month or two you'll be mostly picking what everyone else does, the order you choose will impact your gameplay. More significantly, after the initial wave of technologies you'll find that you just don't have time to get everything you want. You can't get all the advanced techs. You can't even get half.

You'll have to choose, and those choices will help define the capabilities of your empire. Specialize into silver and you'll have an economic edge and more governors to expand with, but players who focused on farmlands and stables techs may overrun your armies, etc...

This.... is a pretty big experiment. We don't really know what combinations players are going to use most, or which combinations are going to prove most effective. (We do know that bonus villages are going to be pretty flipping awesome now, since all of their benefits stack with your research bonuses. Mwahahaaa.)

Fire away with any questions! Tomorrow, I'll be posting about how all this craziness will interact with the Age of Cities... and talking about the kinds of ideas we're working on for the Cities themselves. Check back then. :-)