Blood Bowl 2 Shows Why Developers Should Communicate More

It's not a universal flaw. Not every developer is failing their fan base by failing to communicate. Many, in fact, are active and responsive with their players. But Blood Bowl 2 is a perfect example of precisely what can go wrong when you don't maintain a constant dialogue.

It's called the Living Rulebook. It's the bible for Blood Bowl, much in the same way as the Player's Handbook or Dungeon Master's Guide is the sole reference point for everything in Dungeons and Dragons. If you ever have a question, it's the reference point, the be all and end all.

It's called the Living Rulebook because Blood Bowl has been around for virtually forever and the rules keep evolving. The tabletop game, which blends the races of Warhammer with the physicality and simplicity of American football — get the ball to the end zone — was first released in 1986.

While the core premise is simple, winning can become a surprisingly complex formula when the full range of races, player types, abilities, agility, armour and movement values are combined. Blood Bowl is as much about the management of luck as it is proper planning — even the campaign in BB2 tells players to organise their turn by actions ranked from safest to the most risky, to compensate for a potentially awry die roll.

Those rules don't just dictate the skills for individual characters either. The cost to purchase new players, value of team re-rolls and apothecaries, minimum team sizes, handling of stunned players, what dictates a turnover, and ways to handicap teams with enormous bank accounts towards the end of a long-running league are all set out in the Living Rulebook.

Understandably, anything that goes off-script from LBR6 — the current version — would be noticed by the Blood Bowl elite. And yet no matter where you look, be it Cyanide's official forums, the Blood Bowl sub-Reddit, the official Australian page for real world tournaments or threads on FUMBBL, there are posts and detailed lists of instances where Cyanide has tweaked things in their own vision.

Those tweaks were never communicated to the fans beforehand and neither were other adjustments — such as the lack of a grid or visual guide for tackle zones, why matchmaking is calculated on team value (as opposed to a separate rating for win/losses) or money counting towards a team's value once it exceed 150,000 and more. And that's not counting the fewer races, fewer single player modes and limited customisations for online leagues.


What Happened?

Matches are quite literally a different beast in Blood Bowl 2.

Strategic Simulations Inc., a publisher renowned for their extensive development of hex-oriented turn-based wargames (Panzer General, Fantasy General) and the Gold Box series of RPGs in the 1980's (Pool of Radiance, Champions of Krynn, Gateway to the Savage Frontier, Neverwinter Nights), released the first video game based on Blood Bowl back in 1995. A British company called Tynesoft had been working on a digital conversion for the Commodore 64 well before then, but the company collapsed before the game hit store shelves.

Cyanide, the developer responsible for the most recent iterations of Blood Bowl, developed a game called Chaos League in 2004. It was so eerily similar to the Games Workshop property that the latter sued, but negotiations between both parties resulted in the lawsuit being dropped and Cyanide being granted a license to make games based on the IP.

Games Workshop hitched its wagon, all those years ago, to a team of coders in France. But despite finding what seemed like the perfect developer — a team passionate enough about the property to risk the wrath of GW's lawyers — the Blood Bowl franchise has only ever stumbled to the finishing line.

The original release of Blood Bowl was plagued from the off. Finishing a multiplayer game required just as much luck with a six-sided die as actually winning. That's what it seemed like for first-timers, anyway, who had little chance of understanding what was going on thanks to the poorly explained tutorial.

Even when the game wasn't crashing or hiding information through the atrociously designed UI, bugs would rear their ugly heads — and would often ruin matches all on their own. Players were still reporting problems fielding a full team even after the release of the expanded — and largely, but not entirely fixed — Legendary and Chaos Editions.

Cyanide developed a reputation, but they never developed any goodwill. It's shown in the take-up of the sequel — which started development in 2012 and was initially slated to release in 2014, before being delayed to the middle of 2015, and then to September. It is sequel that has garnered a stellar 71% user rating at the time of writing and just over 42,000 users, according to SteamSpy.


The Value Of Discussion

None of the official screenshots show the interface, so here's the nicest I could make it look. It's not half bad, from the right angle.

For better or worse, Chris Roberts and Star Citizen has become the benchmark for community engagement. It began even before the crowdfunding took off, with a post on the Roberts Space Industries page on September 11, 2012. (The Kickstarter campaign began a month later on October 19.)

"As I write this the count of fellow space gamers stands at 6,897," Roberts wrote. "A few online searches later and some good sleuthing they stumbled across this site, when we had just happened to drop the wall to test some of the registration code. Seven fans signed up before we realized that the outside world was arriving before we were ready!"

46 posts were published before Star Citizen's launch event on October 10, well before the studio had established the near constant line of dialogue. It hasn't always been a positive. The delays to the Star Marine first-person module have been problematic. Chris Roberts has been forced to publicly defend his leadership and ambition, with former employees pointing to inefficiencies in his ethic that resulted in delays, confusion and wasted effort.

But from a player's perspective — the gamers who have potentially spent hundreds, even thousands, of dollars backing Roberts' vision — the barrage of communiqu├ęs gives Cloud Imperium Games an added resource: trust. It's not a magical shield that deflects criticism, but it does afford the developers room to move, explain, apologise and realign where necessary.

Cyanide hasn't earned that. Take their official Tumblr, which the developers used as a depository for lengthy announcements. The last post, dated a couple of weeks ago, talks about the Skaven and gives a very rough outline of the race and their abilities.

Yet it doesn't go into any actual detail. A picture of the Rat Ogre is mentioned and, if you can translate the square-sized pixels, you can make out the rat's various skills and attributes. Other races were covered in the weeks prior, but at no point did Cyanide ever give the fans what they wanted: detail.

There's no mention of why, for instance, aging players were introduced at all. There are plenty of reasons for its inclusion — it makes lengthy leagues slightly more interesting and stops the player market from becoming saturated, but Cyanide never bothered to present this argument to the public. They simply let fans discover changes as footage and the beta rolled out.

Why were the statistics and costs of units changed from the Living Rulebook, and from what was included in previous editions of Blood Bowl? Where is the inclusion of a multiplayer lobby? Is it being patched in the future? What is Cyanide hoping to include in the future?

Nobody knows.


The Problems Ahead

In fairness, Blood Bowl 2 isn't objectively bad. It's not Afro Samurai 2 levels of broken, where basic features go unexplained, units fall through the floor and events happen without any rhyme or reason.

But there is much to be improved. Private multiplayer lobbies aren't currently an option. A bug exists that allows the player with the more expensive team value in multiplayer games to purchase star players — only for that money to magically be reimbursed at the end of the match so the process can be repeated.

The Steam forum is filled with complaints about skills not working correctly and other odd quirks. Cheerleaders, for instance, should be attuned to the race of the team they're supporting, but in Blood Bowl 2 human cheerleaders support all races equally.

Online play is rife with players quitting within the first half. The only solution is to play in a private league where administrators can police it themselves, because Cyanide's framework doesn't punish players for disconnecting at will. It's a nightmarish combination that understandably has resulted in the obvious consensus: if you want to play Blood Bowl, you're better off picking up the Chaos Edition for the original and waiting for Cyanide to patch (or re-release) the sequel.

If you're the creator, that's a hard pill to swallow. But when you don't actively keep in touch with your fans, they're not going to give you the leniency that is necessary to survive. Blood Bowl 2 could be a great game. But until that day comes, the community consensus will always be the same: don't buy it.

All screenshots were captured using a review code of Blood Bowl 2 provided by the game's publisher.


Comments

    Blood Bowl II sucks. Fuck Cyanide. I'm not even giving them and their new game a chance, because what they're doing with it is milking on a level that would put Activision to shame.

    So, first we release the game, right? Then we rerelease the same game again with a lot more races as Legendary Edition. The we rerelease the same game again with another 3 races as Chaos Edition. Then we rerelease the entire game AGAIN and call it a sequel as an excuse for cutting back to the same number of races as the original, hacking all the rest out to be used as DLC or preorder bonuses. Only now apparently they fuck it up royally in the process. Fuck them.

      This is surprisingly comment of the week IMO. When you hear shit like this going on, it absolutely sucks.

      Shit like this is why I started pirating music. I would buy an album on release. Then, when it had dropped out of the top 10 they would release a limited edition with a bonus CD\DVD. Unable to buy the bonus disc seperately, I would have to either buy the whole album again, or miss out. This was how I found out about Napster, by searching Yahoo for "How to download the bonus disc for free".

      I used to pirate games, but Steam sales/Humble Bundles makes it pretty pointless.

      Don't fuck this up.

      at least in this instance there is a lot of extra fruit going on and, IMO, it rates as a new game.

      the "full games" of the last iteration were annoying and frustrating as to keep playing you'd need a compatible version of the game ie mate upgrade's thus so do you, but i don't think this qualifies as a "next game must suck even if i haven't touched it yet"

      i'd say complaints about the developer and complaints about the game ought have there own little pigeon hole, but i'm not really sure if this article itself is a whinge against Cyanide, the history of Blood Bowl v1, or if the new game is actually bad or not.

      for my 37c i'll say that i expected far less from the new release by Cyanide but am otherwise happy playing the new one. Hopefully they'll not dance the same tune with DLC/"Full Releases" as v1, but if that was enough to stop me playing a game i'd never have played Civilisation after it became a Firaxis affair.

    Very good article.

    What is amazing is that there is such a huge possibility of working with the community in this game, because it engages so many die-hard fans of Blood Bowl. Despite being let down pretty much constantly for six years, there are still plenty of people making huge efforts to give detailed and useful feedback. Instead, they choose to antagonise them by repeatedly making poor decisions and completely disregarding communication with the player-base.

    I knew this would happen based on Cyanide's track record. I won't be buying this unless and until a "legendary edition" is released, which, let's face it, is highly likely (again based on Cyanide's track record).

    i picked up the chaos edition of the last game in a bundle. its not very forgiving for a newcomer to the game, even with the tutorial. i didnt enjoy it at all for the 2 hours i put in to it.

    I think this article, while well written and backed up with actual investigation, it's too harsh on a game that has been released only a week ago. I am only going to talk about ageing and quitters though.

    Ageing existed when I first started playing tabletop back in '03. It was part of the official rules and to be honest it was much more extreme than it is now. A player could age really early in his/her career. Nowadays, on this videogame series, it merges with the market and the stadiums to deliver an experience that is not only refreshing but also policing.

    Those guys who will quit the game after a couple of bad turns will have their players add one game to their careers nevertheless, so after playing 30 matches and quitting 60, they will be surprised to see their carefully farmed star players ageing and, if you ask me, this is a good way to give each game more value on the long run.

    Interesting article.

    I too have noticed Cyanide's poor community relationship (although there might be a cultural/language barrier thing there for all we know).

    Yet, it's said that this devolves into a fatalistic piece about such a diamond in the rough of a game. I'll go ahead and predict that if profits don't allow there to be a Blood Bowl 3, this game will be one of the top underdog fan games once it becomes abandonware. This game is really excellent, with admitted rough edges. And the good review scores and steam reviews, in spite of extreme disappointment from some jaded fans, are a testimony to that.

    As a hardcore fan of cyanide's Blood Bowl, it's really disappointing (and tiring) to have to trawl through official twitter feeds, official game forums, steam discussions and Facebook groups to find out any new information about this game.

    I've sucked it up for the most part, and like many others just accepted that this is the only way I'll get the info.

    It's disheartening to see other games where the dev's have an open dialogue and you don't even have to try to find stuff out, it comes to you through all the mediums, on a regular basis!(Facebook, twitter, email, etc). Some dev's even open up a trello account, so you can actually see what they are working on and what's upcoming! This is the future of gaming/community support. If I was developing games, I'd want as much insight and ideas from the outside as I could get, there are the paying customers who are giving up there time to make my product better.

    The big thing about Blood bowl is that it has a hardcore long serving fanbase. It's not just another Assassins creed where everyone will play it for a few months and then move onto the next one.
    These are totally different gamers. These are passionate people who love the game. They want to be a part of the discussion, they want to help make it better, they are willing to spend hours of their time writing ideas and feedback.

    All that's required is some decent PR/communication from the dev's to make it all happen.

    I think that because of the long history of not saying anything, have they dug too deep a hole now to suddenly start telling everyone what they are doing? Surely opening up and communicating now cannot do any less harm that the current trend.

    I've never seen such a tripe filled article.

    Firstly you conflate changes to rules with cosmetic game changes and UI changes. Secondly, you are picking fault with a staggered release of races, just like the previous version did, and release of all 20+ races on launch would be impractical and unreasonable.

    The game is stable, plays well, and looks good. A lot of issues sound like a new player who does not understand the nature of the game, but from the article its clear you are trying at least to appear as a veteran of the game.

    as for holding up SC as a model of community engagement....well, if evidence of poor judgment was needed, thats all thats required.

    Also, you have literally cut and paste paragraphs in multiple times, so your article is repetitive and poorly written with little care or attention give, no proof reading and no editorial oversight.

    Very poor quality work.

      @Houyi

      You smell like damage control. And what's more, not even good damage control. I notice you don't even try to defend the three major complaints about the game: that it arbitrarily changed BB rules, that it has major bugs on release (bugs which I am frankly amazed were not spotted in playtesting), and that the organization of online play leaves a lot to be desired.

      But rather than defend these things, you just airily dismiss them all with a handwave by claiming that the game is pretty and fine, then move on to flinging fistfuls of mud in an attempt to try to undermine the author's credibility.

      Well, let's guess what people are going to trust more: Vague, hollow shilling padded out with insults, or an article that actually makes detailed arguments and backs them up with evidence? I know which one I trust. Protip: it ain't you.

      Regards, an actual veteran TT BB player.

        I like the suggestion that 20 races on launch would be "unreasonable". Pretty sure the players -- people paying for the game -- would have a significantly different opinion about that.

    One or two changes to player stats and or money does not make for a ruined game. Big deal. Totally not necessary but hardly game breaking. Ageing is OPTIONAL in leagues, and has been for a couple of LRB incarnations. The lack of bank is odd. The addition of stadiums is fun however, removes TV bloat and therefore doesnt accurately reflect a teams potential, but on the other hand, still fun.
    The inclusion of sponsors... well? so it adds nothing to the game.. does it ruin the game at all? really? NO it doesnt. Has no bearing on it what so ever. The fact that it is pointed out in a negative way in the article just shows the lack of objectivity...
    I have encountered one or two bugs. Sure thing. But enough to make me wanna crucify cyanide? Nope. Nearly EVERY developer has bugs (EVEN after playtesting.. thats why they have PATCHES.. pro tip for ya). The key will be if they decide to fix them.
    The lack of lobby is a god send. The cherry picking in BB1 was rife, and people whined about it all the time. Throw yourself in the NAF league and away you go.... EXCEPT.. their matchmaking needs a major fix.
    And their shitty camera centering.. god fix that please.

    Regards a much less biased veteran TT BB Player

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now