This is the 1st blog I've posted in the new Wikia community. I wanted to try this so that people can state their opinions regardless of where they are from in the Run8 community. This is a public document and as such can be taken as positive or negative feedback depending on many factors. I'm not sure as of yet if this information will have a table of contents similar to a wikia page or not. But for now I'm going to use the headers to see if it generates. The actual wikia documents are to give people information and facts about Run8. Blogs however may contain facts, but are largely subject to opinion.
Early Analysis Of MP Potential
When I first heard about Run8 the spring prior to it's release I new that it had a ton of potential. At the time MP was not integrated into any other train simulator program. I had however had some experiene in MP in the Flight Simulator community in a server network known as VATSIM. Though I haven't kept up with VATSIM for some time, basically it's a virtua real world community of planes, air traffic controller, sector controllers, etc. who work together in real time across the world. They can see each other's planes, communicate with air traffic control.
So when I heard that Run8 was going to be a MP simulation, I did have visions that the potential may be there to have something similar. I know that routes would be few to begin with, but many like minded people would probably want the real world interaction of MP.
The First 12 Months
Being this is about the numbers I'm going to try and stick with the numbers. RTS was the 1st MP server available to the community. Technically we were a private community, but open to new members. All we asked like other servers were that rules were to be followed, and send us their IP address incase there was any complications. The server was password protected because we wanted people that would respect car movements and follow guidelines. Soon after more servers would begin to show up many of which did not have passwords. All these servers had rules, however many servers that put on sessions for the most part were not as concerned about the content on the server as were.
Because sessions were often held at whatever was good times for the admins of the server, this did not cover what was good for everyone. Still the numbers appeared to be strong. With what was supposed to come down the road it was hard to say what was next for Run8, but it was off to a good start.
Run8 did have some public relations issues in regards to complaints on how people were treated on the official Run8 Forums. Run8 has tradionaly been very protective about thier content. I've had my issues as well, but at the end of the day it's all about business so it takes seeing both sides of the story to appreciate it. They have always been a fairly small team (though it has probably doubled by now) and they wanted to focus on the product and not administering forums. Eventaully the forum was taken down and a new community DAMS came in to take up the void left with no official forum.
What those may not know if they haven't been around since day 1, is that a software developement kit was announced to be made available (I believe after 1 year). To give this some perspective many of my former friends in MSTS did not jump on Run8 right away. I did manage to bring along some of my MP dispatcher friends like Mike Phillips who liked dispatching TD3 MP with myself. He is still an active member of DAMS today and is also an RTS member. But other friends like Ted Kocyla (also a comember of the Waterloo Regional Model Railroad Club) with myself who developed CP Mactier 2.0 for MSTS did not jump on board with Run8.
In my conversations with Ted, he was very surprised how far Run8 has come along. But like so many others in MSTS he enjoys building routes, and adding new cars and engines etc. So with Run8 not having this, it was difficult to switch. For me I was optimistic that these things would come down the road. The SDK wasn't so important yet, I seen the operations and MP potential is what got me here, and is why I have never left.
Unfortunately the SDK was never released after the 1st year. It is no longer listed as something coming in the future. Last I heard there was tons of programming left in it. Not quite sure what the SDK was supposed to have in it anyways. I knew there were route editors out there for the route slaves to build routes etc. But I take it all of it must be in some kind of beta.
I wasn't too worried about this, but I knew that growth would be limited without it. There was a whole community out there that I'm sure would want in if it had been made available. But for now it is on the back burner.
AI And Single Player
Another aspect about other simulators is the ability to have AI traffic and/or run in single player explore mode or some combination. Now Run8 has been very clear from day 1 that it is built on a MP platform to be a MP simulation. Having said that Run8 is probably much better than MSTS Explore Mode. In fact one thing it has over that is the ability to move cars around and save your moves better than any other save function I know of in any other simulator.
AI was something however that was originally another back burner idea. As I recall Run8 wanted to continue to focus on their routes and content, and rely on the community to come up with the interaction necessary.
My Trends And Predictions After Year 1
Now keep in mind that this prediction was before and durring some cool updates to the Run8 program. Yes we have some payware content and routes, but the majority of updates have been that of continued free updates even 2.5 years since it's start. I'm sorry but that is completely unheard of, but the team has done just that. This is why I tread very lite when I am critical of something the Run8 team in my opinion can do better. The simple fact is nobody in any other simulator does more for their community than Run8 has period. We've had some personal issues, but I have always believed in the product and respected their ability to produce updates for the community.
That being said I did have some predictions and things I could see at least in the immediate future. That future stands now at about 1.5 years approximately after I made these predictions. First I said that the more servers that come online, the more people are going to be divided. This is never an exact science because ultimately a server needs to have a prupose and attract people on that purpose. So those that try to please everyone and have a rich history at doing so will probably continue to do fairly well. But those looking to start their own groups would need to be very creative or very popular. If not there would simply be no reason for others to look for something else. No server was at or near capacity with 1 route let alone 4.
Speaking of the routes that was another concern I had. Routes are a great diversion and bring on new characteristics to any simulation. Now despite some numbers shifting over to Needles and Cajon as newer routes, these were all in California anyways. Florida however would become the 1st big test. If I recall it was around this time or shortly after that Florida and others like Proviso was announced. Other rouses such as Alaska and Selkirk were mentioned. Today Alaska is stil in planning stage last I heard, and Selkirk last I checked should be available later this year (perahpas sooner than later).
The point is because Run8 only major changes in the base program has been some really cool features such as the hump yard (released February of 2014) and other continuous tweaks to make the current sim better. Content such as the SD40's and soon to be added GP40 units. Really when you look at this, is it something that is going to generate new people to Run8? I would love to be optimistic and say yes this may drive some people. But honestly the only thing I see coming in at the moment would be new people who liked what they had, or wanted something new to check out. At this point user created content is not known when, if, or how it will become available. The graphics and eye candy are not as good as many other newer sims etc. The physics, operation, and MP remain Run8's bread and butter.
My prediction was very simple. The more routes that come out, and the more servers that come up, the more people will be divided. This will lead to less satisfaction among MP participants, and MP will no longer be appealing for very many. Though I don't have access to all posts, and numbers I have yet to hear of a session that is over capacity. In other words there is always room for more, because there is not enough demand for the over supply that is available.
Numbers That Support The Decline
Here are some numbers and it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges in many respects. But I'll throw out what I know at this point and give you my analysis. The RTS membership as a routine and for security and peace of mind removes members who haven't logged in for the past 3 months. i did such a procedure a few days ago and as it stands right now I have 89 members of the RTS community. This does not mean I have 89 people who have accessed my server either. In general I seem to gain about the same number of users over time as I lose. Right now there are about 4 people on my California server (where I should be running with them but will shortly, I am not one of them at the moment).
Likewise if you look over at DAMS the numbers i'm told here are 890 members (I don't know if they remove members over time but I doubt it unless your a bad boy and flip out). This was sent to me at 6:40pm on a Monday night and tells quite a bit: 4 User online, 3 users 1 hidden. Most users ever online was 25 on Jan 15 2013 (that was 2 years ago or 5 months into the life of Run8). I'm not sure where that falls exactly but if things were growing (and they are not) a new record should of been broke by now.
I've been told that there are many private groups who aren't open for the public to join. SInce I can't verify that data I won't comment on it. I have no access to sales data.
Why Numbers Have Dropped
Now among politics, and other issues that usually only involves the people that are ticked off numbers have still dropped. The most popular sessions remain good popular prepared sessions. Often the ones that focus on 1 particular route tend to be the most interesting because they give people the chance to see more people in a smaller space.
However even with modest growth you would expect numbers to increase (so lets say new sessions are creating new records). I don't think they are, but I don't know so feel free to comment below. But after 2.5 years you would think that there would be all kinds of growth.
Numbers have dropped as I have predicted because people don't have incentive to run. The economy has not really recovered so many people like myself are not working. I have seen retired people stop running all together so yes there is always isolated reasons, but I'm looking at trends here.
The growth in Run8 MP activity has not kept up with the growth in routes. That growth though steady is limited to the number of people involved behind the scenes. These are small numbers and these people often have jobs and other things so they can only do so much.
The product has improved so this is definately not a reason for the drop, so if the product is improving (all be it relatively slow compared to a big company I guess) then what is going on.
Remember 25 users were online on DAMS record 2 years ago. Lets be realistic can say 5 of those users may have just been cuious and use a figure like 20. 20 is an interesting number because 20 is what I know as a dispatcher I can handle on my own. So I have 20 people on the Mojave Sub including myself. In there you will have some 2 man crews don't forget as well as yards etc. Chances are in 6 hours you are going to see a fair bit of interaction and what looks to be a very busy railroad.
Now add Needles Sub and let us assume the number of people that have come into Run8 or left is about the same. All of a sudden those 20 people are now spread out a little thinner. Still it's manageable and everyone can see each other and run with their buddies etc. at some point if they choose. Add in Cajon Sub now things get interesting. You now have on average 7 people per sub. Chances are depending on how long you can run and where you are that you may see anywhere from nothing to a few trains. But that was only the beginning it gets worse.
When Numbers Fall Along With Interest
Now a new route comes along called A Line. It has lots of promise because of the rich vegetation and is still going to be upgraded with free updates to improve the scenery. Still it's a beautiful route. But if anything when A Line came out late last year, this is where my trend has never been more apparent.
Take those 20 peole again, and just divide it by 4. Now the good thing for those who are on A Line is that as long as you are south of Jacksonville you are actually very prototypical to only see perahps 1 other train. However most people are more concerned about seeing others in MP then they are about running prototypical.
But here is where it gets interesting. In California you had users with other users that may or may not have the other routes. You could still see them chat or on Teamspeak if you all shared the same channel. Most times I look at TS for example if it's particularly dead they all go to the same channel. Of course hearing someone 100 miles away is kind of silly, but it makes people feel happier I guess.
The California Server now only has 15 people on it because 5 are on A Line. What was once 20 trains on Mojave sub has been redcued to 5 if that.
What About How Long A Person Runs - Has It Declined?
The answer to this one is absolutey YES! The only time this is not the case is when you have an above normal prime time and dedicated people who don't care about other activity and just do their own thing. I for one love operations, but I admit I want to see other people and trians as well. Running a train across Needles and seeing nothing but parked trains and 1 meet isn't going to insprire me. In fact most people I have observed over the 2.5 years will often run to their last meet and go for a crew change in the next siding if they have a long way to go.
So What About AI
OK officially it has been said that AI is in development. We don't know exactly what this will contain, but to paraphrase what I heard John said you basically won't be able to tell the difference between a player and an AI. Now that is an agressive AI and my suggestion is for something much sooner to be released that is less human like to begin with. I've given my suggestions so that is not what this is about and a wiki is available if people want to see them.
AI has been met with plenty of concern and anticipation by the community depending on what you believe in. The way I see it is this, AI will fasciilitate real traffic movement. It will also provide more opportunities for dispatchers 24/7 across many different servers. This is often something many people want to try but few get the opportunity.
Once a player knows that at least they will see another moving train, they can anticipate dispatching and signal indications, meets, overtakes, etc. But there is a huge side effect this will have, and that is it will bring more people in not just within our community now but those who have neber been in Run8. Even those who have left because of boredom will probably be back for some more. In fact I anticipate that Ai though representing a huge amount of the traffic at first, will eventually become the miniority on many servers again.
Do I suspect that some people will stop running because of AI, yes but there will always be servers out there that don't put AI in after all I hear it will be an option. RTS will be adding AI as soon as it becomes available.
So there you have it folks, it's not the product that is bad it has got better. It is just because things are expanding and more traffic and options are available. Just like I knew when I went 24/7 giving people options means more people may have a server to go to, but it also means less interactions in a whole. I wasn't worried abou it with RTS because I had a system to back me up. It is that very system that has kept RTS relevant despite my recent frustrations in the trend I menion here.
AI I'm 99 percent sure will become a reality this year. I would hope it comes in BEFORE the spring in some fashion. Because if it doesn't I fear more people will be discouraged and participate less. Even I have done less on my own servers because of the falling numbers. When spring comes people will be busy getting outdoors (I know I look forward to that). Quite frankly if AI doesn't come before that I may use Run8 even less until next winter.
Of course when it does come it is going to mean a boom to the product. I know there are other updates on it's way. I just don't know how these updates are going to increase numbers in any way. New rolling stock and routes do have a limited boom when they come out. But eventually they fade because it's the overall operation of the railroad that makes MP interesting to me.
So I hope this is seen as a positive message, and not a rant or negative message. It's a fact of life and Run8 has always got better over time. It was the best when I first got in and it's better than the best now. I can only imagine what it will be. Hopefully we don't have too much longer to wait and see Run8 and MP taken to it's true potential.