Game Announcement
24/07/2021
Stage Zero, State of The Nation & The Future

Hi all,
This post will be a little different and a lot longer than normal as I want to get anyone interested, up to speed with the future of the game.

Before I get into it, I would just like to acknowledge and thank the players and those that have engaged with the project in game and on social media. Your enthusiasm is fantastic to hear! I’d also like to give massive thank you to each and every Member that has signed up thus far, I very much appreciate that you have not only given your time but also spent your hard-earned money on the game and for that I am incredibly grateful and hope you can stick around and watch the game grow.

Executive Summary a.k.a. TL;DR

This ended up longer than intended, so if you just want a quick summary:

  • The game has been in development on and off since 2005 and existed in some form way before that. Pace picked up in 2017 when I went part-time to allow me one day a week to work on it, further in 2019 to allow me two days a week to work on it and further again in 2021 when I became self-employed and began working on the game full time (childcare permitting).
  • Whilst I love working on the game, I need money to eat (Mmm, crunchy).
  • Making games is hard and incredibly time consuming.
  • Making money from making games is harder still.
  • The game is growing and things generally look promising.
  • I intend to shift to more content, promotion and higher member conversion in the shorter term to improve ROI (Return on investment).
  • Longer term roadmap, features and timescales are very much dependent on the level of membership the game receives in future. I intend be more transparent with my costs and set financial goals to help measure expectation about what I can deliver with the funding available.

Anticipated Features

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list, I have been thinking about this game for many, many years! These however are seen as being especially notable and valuable in the medium to long term. These are not in any particular order:

Content
  • More vehicles.
  • More and new vehicle types.
  • More Special events / race types including unusual races e.g. 3-wheeler races.
  • More Odd Job types.
  • More vehicle upgrades.
  • New tracks.
  • New fuel types.
Classifieds Improvements

Seen as one the most unique and fun features of the game, I would like to give this area a lot more love on-top of what it has already had, especially notable:

  • Haggling, both in real-time against computer citizens and with players via notifications.
  • More realistic advert write-ups.
  • More advert types e.g. wide adverts, dealer advert boxes etc… to make it more realistic.
  • Update the existing advert pages to fit in with the new ‘paper style’.
  • Player owned dealerships.
Balance Tweaks
Races
  • In-race events, to add additional random elements to outcomes for example: a player may come off at a corner and lose 10 seconds that lap.
  • Weight penalties: To reduce the likelihood of players repeatedly winning the same races.
  • More race types
  • Championships: Races that follow one another, players must stick with the same car and parts across all races for example: The MotorNation Touring Car Championship.
Classifieds
  • Allow a more gradual increase in sell-time for over-priced cars. In general make it more profitable.
  • Allow four-week adverts.
Depth Improvements
  • I want it so any car, within reason, can be competitive if given enough TLC. This will require adding a far bigger variety of parts, upgrades and a shed load of balancing tweaks.
  • Introduce vehicle faults, which may or may not affect vehicle performance & values.
  • Pre-installed upgrades / parts, so highly tuned cars have less potential for upgrades vs. standard cars.
  • Engine and drive train swaps.
  • Custom parts.
  • Career Paths – change your focus, gain more passive income or time.
  • Achievements and / or collectables to allow visible progression in the game.
  • Odd Job improvements, vehicle bonuses & random events.
  • Street / Race / Rally vehicle modifications.
  • Per vehicle component wear.
  • More granular parts with the option to replace parts via group to ensure it can be as simple or complex as a player wants.
  • Scrapyard / second-hand parts.
Interface Improvements

I.e. the visuals of the game, in general make it more streamlined, visual and engaging like:

  • Make car upgrade process more visual, think slots for car upgrades etc…
  • Make the game give more feedback e.g. money/time/mileage changes
  • Overhaul UI to work better on mobile and set foundations for ports to mobile and possibly a desktop version.
  • Mini games.

A Little Background

Up until recently this game has been on the back burner for my entire career. This means MotorNation is effectively now almost 16 years old. It has mostly been kept private during that time. It has of course evolved but consequently much of the interface is now broadly over 10 years old. This ironically fits into the aesthetic and era of the game, so I need to be slightly careful to update the game without losing what helps make it unique and befitting of the time.

The Deeper Background

There are permutations of MotorNation going past even that, certainly to the early 2000s and the basic premise can be traced back to the early/mid 90s…. There is an offline incomplete prototype version in Java circa 2003, there was once a front page made in Pascal (MS DOS) and originally, I used to write out car adverts from the Auto Trader into Microsoft Works - the DOS version.

  • In late 2017 I went part-time doing a four-day week, giving me a full day per week to work on MotorNation, which allowed me to start ripping the (legacy) game apart and build it back up again with more modern techniques. This was a terrifying prospect – equivalent to demolishing your own house, hoping to rebuild it better than before, but not entirely knowing if it would ever get finished or whether it would be an ugly mess at the end of it. It was never going to happen doing it one day a week, with a lengthy commute and especially with a then 3-year-old becoming part of my family and living with me when my partner moved in.
  • In 2018 I got a job closer to home, keeping the four-day working pattern and the slow progress continued.
  • By 2019 I managed to go down to a three-day week and the pace on the game improved noticeably, now working on it two days per week. By December, I managed to get the newly re-built game working again forming the start of a closed internal Alpha version. This re-built game is what we have today and the features I have added would have taken far longer had I not taken the decision to re-build the game earlier.
  • In February 2020 I was lucky enough to blessed by the arrival of my then new-born son, just before the global pandemic hit the UK in full.
  • By April 2020 after four months or so of refinement, the re-built game was launched as a public Alpha, albeit with no real advertising.
  • By December 2020, after many more improvements including Wrenchy as part of the new tutorial system the game was re-launched as a Public Beta.
  • By late December 2020, the ‘low-grade’ marketing began showing that there was a distinct interest and market for the game. In early January 2021 I got my first paying member that was not my wife (thank you)!

Where We Are Now

It became apparent in January 2021 that the pandemic, living in isolation with a new-born, an aborted house move, schooling a by then six-year-old at home had unsurprisingly taken its toll on us as a family. With my wife shortly going back to work and me being frustrated at a lack of autonomy, variety and flexibility from my own, the then current arrangement did not work for us any longer. I had enough and I reluctantly left my job. My first break in employment since my first full-time role in 2005 when I started my career in web development following my Degree in Computing.

At the start of the new financial year, April 2021, I declared myself self-employed and began working on my own business, Software Taylors. Much time and expense has gone into setting it up and much of my working focus has thus far gone into MotorNation, learning all the different skills I need to run my own business and marketing the game.

I would love to continue investing my time into MotorNation exclusively as I have been, but I do need to support myself and my family. I therefore need to take steps to address this.

Since the beginning of the year I have delivered a lot of new features to the game and spent a lot of time improving it. Some examples of major features since the beginning of the year include:

  • February 2021: Player Classified Adverts – Players can list their cars in the classifieds and buy and sell to other players.
  • March 2021: Player Classified Adverts – Stage Two. Main feature being that MotorNation citizens will now also buy cars from players (computer players). This took a lot of work and necessitated consulting maths and statistics textbooks!
  • April 2021:
    • Further improvements to Player Classified Adverts.
    • Much time spent setting up my business.
  • May 2021:
    • ‘Run what you Brung’ special event, increase in special event numbers and further improvements to race systems behind the scenes.
    • ‘Road Rally’ & Race Restriction Update. The game now allows special events with specific requirements to increase the level of depth in the game and is the first step to providing far more variety with the races.
    • I got the first Gold Members!
    • Players can now reset their accounts if they mess up.
  • June 2021: Game hits 200 players and introduced 200 player car pack to celebrate.
  • July 2021:
    • Odd Jobs feature release! Players can now undertake jobs in the classifieds and begun overhauling the classifieds UI for future expansion.
    • Can now view advanced car stats so people know which cars will be eligible for different odd jobs.
    • First Members Choice car pack.
    • Game hits 400 players, providing constant usability and bug fixes as more players join the game.

In terms of finances the game is broadly bringing in just about enough to cover the server and associated direct expenses. It is however by no means covering my business or advertising expenses and furthermore is unfortunately not yet paying any sort of salary.

The Immediate Future

Due to my self-employed nature, I need to make my own income. I love spending time on the game, improving it and adding content – it is my passion. But I of course need to make money. This is the only way the game will ultimately become sustainable and with features delivered at the sort of pace I would like to work at.

I intend to increase the transparency of the game costs and to set financial goals against the membership intake. This will be an important part in deciding the timescales and what features get delivered and when.

Therefore in the shorter term I aim to shift the focus to add more content, to fill out the game more and add quality of life improvements to existing features while focusing on marketing and encouraging more players to sign-up for membership. At the time of writing, membership starts at a very small minimum monthly tier (£1+VAT) which also offers a permanent discount for those who sign up during the beta stage.

I would also like to add more payment options, especially since I do not believe players should pay any VAT if buying membership directly from me at least since I am earning (very little) below £80k a year. Patreon handles VAT as the money technically goes to them and whilst it is easy to implement and somewhat well known, it is unfortunately very limiting and they take a large cut.

It is important to re-iterate that I am extremely grateful for the existing members and the financial support that they have thus far provided. I certainly do not take this for granted! It is this that has kept the project moving since the start of the year as well as the enthusiasm several people have shown for the project which has been especially humbling to hear!

If it were not for our childcare basically falling to bits due to COVID-19 (our child minder’s family got it and then she did too) then by now I would have started diversifying a bit and begun working more on other projects in parallel in hope to create new revenue streams. I still intend to do this, but with the childcare issues I have basically put all my time into MotorNation thus far and have worked in evenings and weekends trying to make up lost time due to childcare. This is not sustainable unless the game is earning significantly more money.

The Future

The short answer is – it depends on the numbers of paying members. The more and higher paying members there are, the more time can be spent on the game and the more resources I can utilise on it. Having lots of players is fantastic, but there needs to be a certain level of paying members to make the project work and be sustainable long term.

I have been stepping up my project management game a lot in the past month and I have been working on improving my longer-term planning. It would be nice to start implementing roadmaps, but it will be difficult to create realistic time scales until I know what time I have available, and therefore budget, to spend on the game. This relies on my promotion of the game, the game being good enough for people wanting to pay to support it and of course a degree of luck!

In Conclusion

Firstly I hope you have enjoyed my frankness and honesty and have not found this post arrogant, greedy or needy (if you did that was not my intention!). I am trying to be realistic between what I would like to do and what resources I have available. I would like to re-iterate a big thank you to the existing players, especially those that have and continue to contribute towards membership, I am not exaggerating when I say every penny makes a difference right now! But it is amazing to be making any money from doing what I love so that is fantastic, I just hope I can continue to give the game the love I think it deserves.

The game is growing all the time, the numbers are looking good and I am pleased with the progress being made. However I am concerned that things need to pick up pace financially and there may be some difficult decisions ahead, but rest assured I will not be giving up on the game any time soon.

If you have read this far then, thank you for taking such an interest in my rantings and I hope you enjoyed an open insight to how things are going with me and the game.

As always, thank you for your support and keep safe!

Andrew T.

In memory of Grandad
© Andrew Taylor 2021
Helper