The studio responsible for the game Gloria Victis has announced the closure of both the game servers and the studio itself, which is set to take place at the end of October 2023. None of the problems faced by new players, as outlined in the audit below, have been addressed in the updates. I leave the audit in its unchanged form since its publication with minor changes to enhance clarity. I hope you enjoy the read.
Gloria Victis is a MMORPG game developed by a small Polish studio. At the time of the audit, it had a 69% positive review rating on Steam. A noticeable portion of negative reviews was given by players who had less than 2 hours of playtime. As a part of this analysis, I want to present possible reasons for this outcome. If the overall game rating were just 1% higher, Steam would display its overall approval as "mostly positive" instead of "mixed," which would make a significant difference in how the game is presented in narrow lists - the thumbnail for the game would show a blue thumbs-up icon; it would look exactly the same as games with 100% positive reviews, increasing the chance that potential players would be interested in clicking. In MMORPG games, one of the most important factors for players is a large number of simultaneous players (hence "massive multiplayer online") to create the impression that the game and its world are alive. A common question on forums for less popular games of this type is:
"Is this game dead?"
This occurs because players do not want to invest their time in something that may potentially shut down in a few weeks, wiping their characters and progress.
As UX heavily relies on deriving insights from analytics, and since I did not have access to them, I focused solely on discussing "objectively" unfriendly solutions for players. I clearly indicated where data analysis could be conducted to make an informed decision about potential changes.
Due to the nature of the MMO genre, it requires a certain minimum number of players to fulfill its gameplay objectives. Therefore, it is particularly important for a player who decides to give it a chance to stay with the game for longer. Because the game is on the Steam platform, players will want to make a decision to continue or abandon the gameplay within two hours. This time limit is dictated by Steam's policy - any user can request a full refund if they have spent less than two hours in the game. So, what is the new player's experience like within this timeframe?
Issue: The panel displayed on the right side is unclear. It states that the Steam profile is not connected to any Gloria Victis account. What are the consequences of this? What does it mean for the player? Should they look for an option to link their profile with GV? Another important issue that may be unclear is whether a player who purchased the game on their Steam account can have multiple GV accounts associated with it. Furthermore, the instruction to click "Register" to proceed is misleading - while it needs to be done, the user should first enter the login details for the new account. Lastly, the placeholders (enter your password and etc.) in the login fields are barely visible and completely unnecessary. Have a look. There is a high chance that you might have completely missed them. Also, they don't provide any additional information, as the fields are labeled.
Proposed solution: Add 1-2 sentences clarifying how the GV account is connected to the Steam account and correct the wording of the instruction. Remove the placeholders from the login data field.
Issue: At the bottom of this screen, there is a news window, but the button that (presumably) expands it to full screen simply does not work.
Proposed solution: Implement this functionality because it is uncomfortable to read long posts in such a small window.
Issue: The character on the right side of the image provides an "emotional connection" with the player - standing in a victorious pose with a goal to add atmosphere to the game and give promise the player: you can show that you are better than others. However, it is unfortunate that the character is mostly obscured by the account creation panel, making the screen look unprofessional, and that diminishes the player's expectations.
Proposed solution: Change the placement of the panel to the left side where it will not obscure the significant part of the image.
Issue: Players rely on patterns they know from other games when creating their characters. One of the standard mechanics present in the majority of RPG games is choosing the race and class of our character. Players go through a very similar process in GV, but they may be missing a certain element - they want to know the differences in statistics their decisions make. How do Ismir differ from Midlanders? Is there any difference their stats? Do they have access to different types of weapons or professions? Or is the difference purely cosmetic? Unfortunately, the game does not answer any of these questions.
Proposed solution: A character creation screen that explains in a few sentences whether and how the factions differ from each other in terms of mechanics. New players would also appreciate information that this is a classless game, and every character can use any weapon.
Potential issue: The game recommends that the player's created character be part of the faction with the lowest population on the server, which may possibly lead to negative UX. Even though the game informs the player that it may be more challenging, not every player reads and internalizes this information. What's worse, sometimes despite being fully aware of the consequences, the player still decides to make such a choice, which they may ultimately not be satisfied with (it's human nature to prefer being on the winning team rather than the losing one). Bonuses that provide the initiative to choose the least popular faction are understandable, but perhaps their visibility and recommendation for new players (i.e., those creating their first character) could be reduced.
Potential area worth exploring: Data on the number of drop-offs by players who chose the least popular faction.
Issue: When creating a character, players usually want to make it as optimal as possible, so they may wonder if they are allocating attribute and profession points correctly. It is often observed in RPG games that players seek guidance from others on this aspect during character creation. This activity is not typically perceived as enjoyable but rather as a necessity. They feel that if they allocate their points incorrectly, they will have a poor gameplay experience. This behavior stems from other games, especially those with microtransactions, where game systems are often designed in a way that it is easy to "mess up" at the beginning of the game when the player doesn't fully understand what they are doing. The game then offers a "solution" through microtransactions, allowing players to reset their attribute points and spend them in a more optimal way.
Proposed solution: Add information to the character creator about the free and hassle-free option to reset attribute points until they reach level 90. This will allow players to experiment and not worry about seeking external guides at this stage of the gameplay.
Issue: Most tooltips in the game are centered, and such text is less comfortable to read because each line of text starts at a different point, requiring the player's eyes to constantly move. This is particularly inconvenient for longer texts (which are common in GV). The above screenshot illustrates this well. Tooltips could also benefit from reducing the repetition of text and replacing it with specific values. This would greatly assist the player because they would not feel like they are blindly spending points (the player has no idea of the magnitude of the modifiers, whether it is, for example, +2 or just +0.05).
Proposed solution: Align the text in tooltips to the left side. Edit the tooltips to remove unnecessary repetition of words. For example, the Dexterity description could look like this:
Bow Damage + X
Knife Damage + X
Sword Damage + X
Headshot Damage + X
Backstab Damage + X
Piercing Damage Resistance + X
Stamina Regen + X/s
Issue: Right after the player's character enters the game world, they see an initial tutorial that teaches them how to open and close the map. However, they don't know how to detach the cursor from the center of the screen. Permanently attaching the cursor to the center of the screen and changing its appearance to a dot is not a popular mechanic. Having a visible cursor of a normal shape gives the person operating the computer a sense of control, and suddenly losing it can lead to a feeling of disorientation. In such a state, the person's main goal becomes finding the cursor as quickly as possible, disregarding other key information that needs to be absorbed. The quick reference guide that appears in the top-left corner of the screen, showing which keys are assigned to certain basic functions (sprint, cursor detachment, holstering weapons), which can be seen in later screenshots, does not appear at the very beginning of the game when it is most needed.
Proposed solution: The tutorial could start with information on how the cursor behaves in the game and how to detach it from the center of the screen, and the quick reference guide on how to do it could be visible from the very first seconds of the game.
Issue: During gameplay, a permanent notification about a tournament may suddenly appear, with a continuously counting down timer until its start. A new player does not understand what this tournament is, and they are not yet familiar with even the basic mechanics of the game. This information further distracts them, especially because their eyes notice the movement of the timer. However, there is nothing they can do about it as their character level is too low to participate in the tournament.
Proposed solution: Information about events requiring a certain character experience level could be displayed in such a noticeable way only to players who have at least one character with a high enough level to participate in the event.
Potential issue: Archery (subjectively) provides little satisfaction, at least at low character levels. A precise shot from a bow, despite investing attribute points to increase its damage, deals nearly eight times less damage compared to a sword strike. Additionally, the number of arrows is limited. A large portion of players enjoy ranged combat, and it's not without reason that the "stealth archer" is perhaps the most popular character archetype in Skyrim. Gloria Victis significantly limits players' options in this regard - bows seem very weak as weapons. It's possible that some players had fantasies of playing as a medieval archer but realize that it won't be an enjoyable experience. Perhaps at higher levels, after investing a sufficient number of attribute points and selecting the appropriate passive skills, bows become a viable option. However, their absence at the beginning of the game is particularly painful since they are the only way to engage in ranged combat in GV.
Potential solution: Gather player feedback regarding archery. If bows only become good at high experience levels, it may be worth strengthening archery at low levels to reduce such a significant disparity.
Issue: Information on how the arrow regeneration mechanics work can appear when axes (referred to as arrows) are depleted.
Proposed solution: Information about regenerating projectiles could appear immediately after the player fires their first shot or performs a throw. It should clearly indicate that bows are not the only weapons that use regenerating ammunition and specify which weapon types operate similarly.
Issue: The tutorial does not explain fundamental aspects such as blocking or the differences between using shields and weapons to do so. It also lacks combat against moving opponents, where players can test the moves they practiced on dummies. The directional combat mechanism present in GV is only found in a few games, where it also functions slightly differently. Since it is the most important mechanic for the player, more time and attention should be dedicated to it in the tutorial.
Proposed solution: The tutorial could include a section devoted to shield blocking (perhaps against attacking archers?). An NPC could be added to act as a sparring partner for the player.
Issue: When we try to switch to the guild tab without belonging to any guild, instead of the tab, a popup with guild-related information appears. The popup format is slightly irritating because it needs to be closed in a different way than other tabs. It will be particularly annoying for those trying to operate the game with a controller.
Proposed solution: Change the popup window into information presented within the tab.
Issue: After equipping another piece of armor (in this case, a medium helmet), a message suddenly appears stating that the armor is too heavy. It's difficult to understand what caused this because previously my character was already wearing equipment classified as medium. Information about this relationship cannot be found in the game.
Proposed solution: Add a tooltip that precisely explains this system when hovering the cursor over the "Armor is too heavy" message.
Issue: A tab that is empty (excluding the ads present in other tabs as well) seems to serve no purpose. It is good UX practice to provide an "empty state" that informs the player what could be found there when there is nothing else to display.
Proposed solution: Provide an empty state or label this tab.
Potential issue: From a UX perspective, I would apply the same style of describing skills as suggested for attribute descriptions. Additionally, from a psychological standpoint, the changes introduced by skills appear to be miniscule - bonuses like 1% or 0.05s simply cannot be felt. Players don't get excited when investing 10 points only results in a 2% increase in damage. Most skills don't actually provide new options; they only enhance the character's basic attributes.
Issue: The screen provides conflicting information. Clicking on an already unlocked ability displays the message "Unlock this node to use tier 2 Weapons." This information should not be shown because the ability is already unlocked, yet the same text appears when clicking on a still locked ability.
Proposed solution: Change the information displayed when the player clicks on an already unlocked ability.
Issue: The problem stems from the UI and negatively affects the UX. In many areas of the game, the presented information lacks a clear hierarchy, making everything appear equally important (which is not the case). It could be styled differently to facilitate visual scanning of the information. These are minor things that may not seem significant individually but the player encounters them at every step. Two examples:
Proposed solution: Review the appearance of player labels and item descriptions by applying a clear information hierarchy and standardizing the roles of each text field.
Issue: The "Sell" button is labeled in a way that can create confusion, presenting an unclear picture of how the market works in GV. Additionally, when listing an item, the default price could be set as the lowest price on the market, saving players time in entering a sensible price.
Proposed solution: Change the label of the "Sell" button to "List Item." When listing an item, the default price could be set as the lowest price on the market.
Issue: The game features combat mechanics such as chambering, but it never teaches players about them. If I hadn't stumbled upon people discussing it in the chat, I would have never learned about these mechanics. While there is a notification recommending a YouTube video showcasing advanced combat mechanics that appears after a character's death, it is from 4 years ago (it's outdated) and also does not cover chambering.
Proposed solution: Explain advanced combat mechanics to the player at a fairly early stage of the game (e.g., in the second main location). In GV, players have a limited range of moves compared to other games, and relying solely on basic moves in combat can quickly become dull.
Issue: When a player wants to reheat food, it seems that the fastest way is to search by name. Why not utilize the same interface that appears in the market?
Proposed solution: Introduce the option to reheat food at a campfire through a context menu or by using drag and drop, similar to selling items on the market screen.
Issue: During gameplay, players may come across items that lack descriptions. Perhaps one might not notice this if it weren't for the text saying "description coming soon." It's difficult for players, especially those playing versions above 1.0, not to immediately think "this game is unfinished."
Proposed solution: Ensure all items have proper descriptions to avoid confusion and provide a more polished gaming experience.
Issue: Players may encounter wild horses. When they interact with them, a mini-game begins, but the controls and mechanics are not explained anywhere. If the player manages to figure out what to do, they can attempt to tame the horse. However, no additional information is provided about this mechanic. What happens when the horse's HP reaches zero? What happens if the player moves away from the horse for a significant distance? How can the player dismount from the horse? Are horses tied to the character or the account? These crucial pieces of information are completely overlooked by the game.
Proposed solution: Add a training ground connected to a horse handling tutorial that explains all the related aspects at the beginning of the game.
Issue: When a player has accepted multiple quests, the minimap indicates that they are in the area of one of them, but it doesn't specify which one exactly. In this example, there is a boar in front of me, and I have accepted a quest to kill boars. I am in the area of a quest, but at first glance, I don't know which one. Am I in the boar quest area?
Proposed solution: The icon for the tracked quest could be highlighted with a blue circle, making it immediately clear which quest area the player is in.
Issue: When a character dies, the player can choose where to respawn, but each option is labeled as "ADDITIONAL RESPAWN POINT." The player might even mistakenly assume that respawning in these locations costs some sort of additional respawn points. This confusion arises because the death mechanics are not explained anywhere. What does it entail? What does it cost the player? What is the difference between dying in a designated safe zone and outside of it? These are the questions that the player ponders in this already unpleasant situation.
Proposed solution: Add a pop-up window with information on how the death mechanics work when the player's character dies for the first time. (Additionally, it might be worth considering not penalizing the player at that time.)
Issue: After nearly two hours of gameplay, despite completing all the quests given by the game (including taking the maximum number of optional ones), my character's level is significantly lower than the level of every quest presented to me by the game (as shown in the screenshot above - during this time, my character reached level 12). Some players may assume that it's time to grind, as this pattern is present in many other MMO games. Due to the disparity between the character's level and the quests, players may perceive the game's content as insufficient, leading to a need for artificially filling it with less engaging activities.
Proposed solution: Ensure that the player's level corresponds to the level of quests if they have completed all the available ones thus far.
Within the development team working on the game, there may be a belief that Gloria Victis is intended for advanced players. While this is true, it happens because only advanced and motivated players will be able to navigate and enjoy the game in its initial stages. The game is inaccessible to less motivated and less experienced players, both with the genre and games in general. Sure, a player can figure it out - there is a wiki, other players, and resources on YouTube - but only a motivated player would be willing to seek help in that manner. The game doesn't try to "sell" itself from its strongest aspect but starts from its weakest, which doesn't encourage players to give it a chance and invest more time. Many of the observed problems don't only affect new players, so implementing the suggested changes would positively impact the experience of all players.
From a purely business perspective, the most crucial thing is to capture players' attention for the first two hours. After that time, a player cannot refund the game, and it remains in their Steam library. Even if the player is currently dissatisfied with the game, they will still receive notifications about its updates, leaving the door open for a return to the game. This way, the studio not only avoids losing potential revenue from game purchases but also gains a player on whom it can further monetize by offering cosmetic microtransactions.