Devblog #7: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

A short while ago, we posted a survey allowing everyone  to express their views on Thrive. Honestly, we didn’t expect it to be this useful. Though the survey is still ongoing, this post features a detailed breakdown of the data so far.

Also in this Devblog: every Thrive release, music, tutorials and more.

Other News

If you aren’t thrilled by the thought of a lengthy statistical analysis (and if so, what is wrong with you?), we’ve included all other news at the beginning of the Devblog for convenience.

Every Thrive Release

Have you ever wondered what the Thrive engine looked like in its earliest days? Many of the older releases have disappeared from the internet, but TheCreator managed to track as many down as possible (0.2.0 was nowhere to be seen) and uploaded them in a massive file. To save everybody the trouble of downloading 1.5GB, here’s Oliveriver playing them all.

 

Tutorial

Last time out, we announced the near completion of compound clouds, the prime feature of Thrive 0.3.2. Good news – the second biggest feature, a tutorial, is also complete. You can watch a video here. The font will be changed to something more legible and the GUI panel stretching is soon to be fixed.

Fixing the cell stuttering with general performance improvements is the next task.

Thrive Main Theme

As iconic as the Thrive Main Theme is, it’s needed polishing for a while. Oliveriver set himself the challenge. Here’s a work in progress version:

 

Let us know what you think. Bear in mind it’s only two thirds of the finished piece (many of the much-loved sections from earlier versions are yet to be renovated), and the middle section will be extracted and used as a shorter version for places such as the main menu.

Minor Stuff

Most of our main developers have posted the AMAs outlined in the last Devblog, but you can continue to ask them questions on either the subreddit threads or the forum topic. NickTheNick confirmed his name really is Nick, moopli’s committed himself to working on Thrive until the very end, Oliveriver was downvoted in his own AMA for saying Cheerios are his favorite cereal, and TheCreator expressed his undying love for tacos.

Following on from this and a suggestion from the survey, we’ve set up a credits page, listing everybody we’d like to thank for their help in the past alongside personal introductions from each of our main developers. As always, we’re hoping this list grows well into the future.

Speaking of old developers, we’re happy to announce the return of The Uteen and Poisson to the Thrive community. They were heavy-hitters within the team several years ago, and anybody who’s spent any time perusing our archive forums will know them well.

Data Analysis

Thanks to the Thrive Community Survey, we’ve found answers to questions we never even thought to ask. Our fans’ opinions on the game are valuable, especially since we’re an open-source team, the line between fan and contributor regularly blurring. The basic results are here, but in this Devblog we’ll look behind the scenes. You can still submit a response at any time, but all analysis below deals with only the first 298 responses.

Expect many graphs.

Demographics

What sort of people follow Thrive? Obviously everyone should, but the demographics of our audience show who we’ll have to make do with (just kidding, we love you all really).

Our supporters are overwhelmingly young. Making some assumptions about the average age for those younger than 15 or older than 35, the estimated mean age is somewhere around 19. This fits within the 15 to 19 age range comprising nearly half our audience. Realistically, this is just a measure of the average internet user with regular free time. Or, with a more cynical view, below the age of 20 people are more likely to believe in outlandish projects with little hope of success.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Thrive followers are male. Despite a weighting towards America, we’re still fairly diverse, with fans in 35 different countries across 5 continents (6 if you include the time-traveling convict from Antarctica we had to exclude from all results).

Most of our supporters are still in education, either already in university or soon to be. Their favourite subjects aren’t that surprising either, with biology and computing, the two major aspects of Thrive, coming out on top.

Here’s a word cloud of everybody’s favorite video game franchises, size scaled to frequency. No surprises what the most frequent answer is.

Discovery

According to the survey, the majority of you have been following us for some time. Obviously the option intervals are nowhere near even, so the two year stretch from 1 to 3 years is unfairly weighted, but it’s comforting to know people stick around. Most of our fans come from Spore-related sources, with a large amount from Reddit. A depressingly small number come from game development forums, so we’ll have to rethink our approach in future. If you know of anywhere else which could harbor Thrive converts to be, let us know.

The initial reactions were a little difficult to quantify, so we arbitrarily attached a number from 1 to 5 to each answer representing how positive the reaction was, creating the Thrive Reactometer™, with an average positivity level of 4.1 out of 5. Really this is a little useless, because a) it’s difficult to measure how excited someone is from one typed sentence and b) anyone with a negative reaction would never have been interested enough to take the survey. Yay for sampling bias!

Since reducing everything to numbers takes away the opinionated nuance, here are some of our favorite responses:

‘Overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was.’

We try. 🙂

‘ERMAGHERD MY LIEF IZ CUMPLETE.’

We’re truly honored. Just wait until the game’s finished though…

‘Real cool, but I wanted more freedom. I wanted a universe that’s made out of customized particles and molecules and then make life from those particles that interact with different particles. IDK man…still want this game though.’

We’d like to point out that, even by our own standards, this is computationally impossible.

‘Meh, hexagons.’

Looks like we won’t be getting this response anymore.

‘I had a boner, I was so happy!!!!’

ಠ_ಠ

The proportion of people who’ve left and returned to the community later is also interesting. Around 37% of people said they had, but the proportion stayed curiously close to 25% for some time. Matching ‘Yes’ responses to response number yields this graph, showing the number of ‘Yes’ responses over time. Also shown is a quadratic fit trend line displaying increasing growth – i.e. more people said they’d left and returned as time went on. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense.

Engagement

So you’ve found the Thrive project – now what? Do you sit at the sidelines and see only the most promoted announcements, or do you feverishly read every little thing someone posts on the forums?

Our most used web presences are pretty clear. In fact, of the 142 responders who said they used the subreddit regularly, 61 used only the subreddit and nowhere else. We were already aware it’s a major source of external traffic, but one has to wonder why we never hear from most of the 3000 or so subscribers.

Most Thrive activity takes place on our development forums and community forums, so it’s fascinating to see that the majority of those who took the survey almost never use them. The community forums show a neat trend in the frequency of visits, with over a third using them very little. Our development forum visits are even less frequent, nearly half visiting less than once a month. It’s clear we have to ensure everything important is posted in the places people actually look (the subreddit and website).

What of the GDD? At first the results were encouraging as we found more than expected had read our full Microbe Stage plan, but pretty soon…this happened. 60% of our followers either weren’t aware we had one or didn’t know what a GDD was in the first place. For those of you who don’t, a Game Design Document outlines everything about a game in as much detail as possible, and we have our own for the first microbial stage of gameplay. It’s subject to change, but it’s got everything you’ll ever want to know about current our plans for the Microbe Stage (except the full CPA system, but we’re working on it).

Right now the game isn’t all that much fun to play – hardly what the GDD promises. Maybe this explains the responses for how often people play the game. Better gameplay is certainly on the horizon, the priority of the 0.4.x updates. Whoever plays Thrive ‘All the time’ right now, we salute you. The same question for the soundtrack had a more even spread in answers.

Only a few people had discussed Thrive with people in real life, but not an insignificant few. In retrospect it may have been useful to know whether our survey participants were telling others about it, had others tell them about it, or both acquaintances knew of Thrive beforehand. If you’re one of the ‘Yes’ responders, we’d love to know the details.

Opinions

And now the most important part – what you actually think of the game.

We’ll start with the greatest Thrive dilemma: money. Along with the default responses, we broadly categorised the ‘Other’ answers to produce this graph. We’ll obviously stay well away from one option here, but it’s clear our supporters feel adding money to the process would be sufficient to speed it up. A staggering 83% of survey responders were in favour of some sort of monetary income. We tend to feel otherwise, but it’s hardly surprising so many people want us to be paid somehow. You can read everyone’s reasoning on the results page.

Something surprising does happen when you combine the data for forum visits and opinions on money. We made graphs showing the likelihood of an individual supporting monetary income for Thrive based on their frequency of visits to the community and development forums. We’d say there’s quite a clear correlation– the more frequently someone engages with Thrive’s day-to-day running, the less likely they are to support the involvement of money. This could be because of a lack of understanding of Thrive’s organisation, but it could be the inverse – those in favour are less likely to get involved due to scepticism about the current system. Either way, the debate over funding will rage on.

Here is a graph of average stage interest (‘Very interested’ = 4, ‘Interested’ = 3, ‘Neutral’ = 2, ‘Not interested’ = 1). The Microbe Stage had the overall lowest interest with a mean of 3.146, while Aware Stage was highest with 3.628. No stages were anomalously low or high, which is encouraging. We’re surprised by how many people think we’re going to complete every stage. Most of the time we don’t believe it ourselves, but it’s comforting to know only about 9% of our supporters think a fun Microbe Stage is out of reach.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest), here is a graph showing how highly people value the game being completed. For us, this was a surprise – most of the developers are here for the journey, not the destination. Thrive is years at best from being finished, and it’ll be a momentous day when it finally comes, but most of us enjoy the general problem solving and iterative improvements that come from development. Cells are what we focus on now, then the rest will come.

But what does everyone else expect from Thrive in the end? Like the other text-based answers, you can trawl through every response here. Below are some of our favourites – the positive, the negative and the thought-provoking.

‘A fun, community-made game, for fans, by fans. To me it doesn’t really matter if the game finishes or not (though one must always strive to achieve ones goals), but rather that everybody has fun working on it, playing it and celebrating its victories.’

‘A game that will have progressed enough for the dev team to finally say to all the haters, “Look how far we got and you thought we’d get nowhere”.’

‘A fantastic game that is good on its own, but will shine even more with player-made content, and slowly grow more and more fantastical as time goes on and updates are made. Basically, the kind of game you get when the staff and players care. <3’

‘Honestly, I don’t realistically see Thrive becoming the ultimate evolution simulator that I’d love it to be. I understand how difficult such an ambitious idea is going to be to fully realize. However, if its current position and direction is anything to judge its future by, I still have very high hopes for whatever Thrive might become.’

‘I expect nothing. Thus I stand to be pleasantly surprised.’

‘Honestly nothing, I saw to many red flags both small and large, from the old forum, community, development team that putting a new coat of paint on it isn’t going to change how I view Thrive. I think the new forums and website helped but I am still reminded of the old team and it will still move at a snail’s speed in development. I still think you will get far but I think the game will be half-baked and boring.’

‘I just want to see what the team can do; the project seems to have taken on a life of its own at this point. If in five more years something “finished” emerges, even better!’

‘I don’t expect anything. The fact that it’s come this far is amazing. That’s why I follow Thrive: it has exceeded my expectations to come this far, and I hope it continues to do so.’

We’re pretty happy with how people view our approach to community and outreach. We’ve already addressed some gripes with activity on our Facebook and YouTube accounts. Unfortunately one ‘No’ responder gave no information on how to improve in the next answer, and another contradicted themselves with ‘I think the way you communicate is fine as of now.’

Some of the other perceptive comments:

‘Make it so the staff aren’t treated too specially. I haven’t seen much “staff worship” as I like to call it, but this often happens when a site gets particularly popular. Tell the staff that they don’t have to be professional all the time – that way people come to respect the staff that much more, in a way that doesn’t come off as creepily worship-y. It makes the community much tighter-knit, and some shyer people will be less afraid of the staff if they see them being crazy goofballs like everyone else.’

We’ve got this covered, don’t worry.

‘Let the community know the amazing team of devs. Maybe interviews?’

Thanks to this useful comment, already taken care of.

‘Live streams showcasing the new releases.’

That isn’t a half bad idea…watch this space…

‘Make you monthly posts every month. Seriously. Even if nothing is happening.’

Are four Devblogs in about a month enough compensation?

‘Constantly read what your fans like and dislike, and keep everything open during the development period and after! This kind of game needs people who are willing to create and care for a community.’

Given some of the things we’ve learnt from our supporters through this survey, we’ll surely pay more attention to opinions in future.

How realistic should the game be, and should it come at the expense of fun? Our fans say a mix of both. The mean opinion is 3.24 (slightly more in favor of realism). The game vs simulation spread is almost identical, with a mean of 2.94 (skewed towards gaminess, but only very slightly). Comparing standard deviations is more interesting – the former has an SD of 0.87, while the latter’s is 0.98. In other words, opinions on game vs simulation had a greater spread. Perhaps this is a sign of slight dissent amongst the community.

We did exactly the same analysis for preferred difficulty level, yielding this graph. With a mean of 3.61 and a SD of 0.74, there’s general agreement that the game should be hard, but not too hard.

Finally, the best answers to the question on general Thrive opinions:

‘You guys have an amazing IP, just be honest with what you can achieve with your community and yourselves.’

Ideas are cheap, so everything we do is cheap until something concrete comes of it.

‘I believe all games are made better with the addition of options, such as an option to control how realistic the game is and such. I would hope Thrive to have many options, perhaps to the extent of games like Sid Meier’s Civ series. Or options could be added for the community in the form of mods.’

While it will be a nightmare to balance, multiple gameplay options are definitely on the cards. And mods will be a big part. We have a few already.

‘As much as the Thrive team wants to move away from comparisons to Spore, it will likely never cease. However as long as those comparisons are that it is a better and more fulfilling product than Spore ever was then I feel it will have been a worthwhile endeavour.’

You should’ve seen the number of Spore mentions in the responses to the expectation question. Yikes. This is most of the basis for the ‘Lies’ of the title – it seems we need to let people know that Thrive isn’t Spore 2.

We see Thrive as its own thing. We’re working to bring a load of scientific concepts to life which have never before been part of a game, irrespective of how Spore did it. Thrive is (potentially) the ultimate fusion of a love for science and a love for games, not just “Spore but with an aquatic stage” or “Spore with larger planets”. If you want Spore fixes, there are other options. Still, no matter how firmly we state it, it’s not going to make any of you believe we’re not making Spore 2. It was how the project started, after all.

‘It’s headed in the right direction, you have at least addressed most the main problems with this questionnaire. My opinion of Thrive was so bad before that I wouldn’t consider joining the team. I still wouldn’t join the team but that is mainly because the game isn’t what I anticipated it to be.’

We completely understand. Frankly it’s a miracle people are still following us, or that there are people here to follow at all. Can something come of it? Who knows, but we’ll try.

‘Customization should be at the top, I don’t want to simulate a generic or alien lifeforms I want to create and simulate my own vision.’

Indeed. Creation should be as big a part of the game as simulation is. We sometimes get our heads stuck in our backsides devising simulation mechanics at the expense of player creativity, but as long as we moderate ourselves, the end goal of a happy union is possible, or so we believe.

Inside Jokes

Most of you probably had no idea what in the universe the last part of our survey was about. The opportunity to insert a load of inside jokes was irresistible, so here are the results with some much-needed explanations.

Just under half of our Belgiuming fan base knew what the Belgium was up about that Belgiuming word Belgium. This is Belgiuming unacceptable.

Around 60% of people think TheCreator is awesome. This is also Belgiuming unacceptable. For those stumped, TheCreator inserted a sneaky Easter Egg into version 0.3.0 – if you hovered over the planet in the main menu, a tooltip would appear declaring that ‘TheCreator is awesome!’, and nobody noticed until it fully released. TheCreator is demonstrably awesome, so 40% of you are wrong.

Whether by luck or brilliance, 30% of you knew the correct number of Uteen toothbrushes, (20.5). See here for an explanation.

Disco mode was a glitch in the 0.3.0 pre-release, where cell nuclei would flash white in sync. Forum moderator The_Wayward_Admiral decided to make his signature ‘Viva la Disco Mode’.

And, finally, we come to the Thrive concept creature showdown. We gave you four creatures from our concept art to choose from in a hypothetical battle: The Disturbance, Alien Giraffe, Romp and The Uteen. We can reveal that Alien Giraffe won by a huge margin. This is clearly the most important piece of information garnered from this entire survey.

And that’s this Devblog done. Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. Given how many of you expressed your view that we should be more active in outreach, the next Devblog won’t be far away, and neither will the next release. See you then!

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