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There comes a time in the life of every game where players have non-trivial choices to make that a certain subset of players either start whining about or become dismissive of certain features of the game because they are either "not balanced" or "not fun." And when I say every game, I don't just mean video games. Magic the Gathering has this issue too: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/a ... 2013-12-03
and the followup: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/a ... 06-03-20-2
These are good articles. Read them, Devs. Actually, everyone on the forums should read them. Consider what kind of player you are when you play a game. It's important.
Sometimes there genuinely is a problem. If a new feature is universally loathed...yeah. It's probably got some issues. But when your player base is divided over a feature you probably have a Timmy/Johnny/Spike problem. (No really. go read the articles. Fine. TLDR: Timmy Johnny and Spike are psychographic profiles of game players. It was originally intended for MtG but it extends fairly well to the majority of other games. Timmy likes doing cool awesome stuff, Johnny wants to make cool things, Spike likes winning and he wants an even playing field and rules when he does it.) Timmy Johnny and Spike do not like the same things, but they all like your game for different reasons. TJ&S will all eventually find something in your game that they do not like. Then they will complain and argue. It's what they do because they don't understand how someone else could like this "thing X" that is just "the worst thing ever."
A game designer has two options when dealing with this problem. They can say "Well, our game caters to the Timmy/Johnny/Spike crowd. They're where we make most of our money. The other two can take their balls and go home." Or they can say "We don't care, there are options for everyone!"
For a case study: compare Diablo 3's design decisions to Path of Exile's. Blizzard focuses on tournament play. That's their thing. They care about the Spike crowd and the other players are welcome to play but shouldn't expect much love. Because they cater to Spike they constantly work to make sure all the classes are balanced and competitive. Path of Exile does NOT care at all about balance. You build your character. if you have a bad build, that's on you. Make a new one and try again until you get it right. They're the same kind of game, but their design philosophies are very different.
Now don't think you have to be purely one type. The world is full of "Johnny/Timmy"s or "Spike/Johnny"s. A few rare people might be all three. Factorio is predominantly a Johnny game. It's all about building cool stuff and figuring out clever tricks. My guess would be that practically everyone who plays the game has a good chunk of Johnny in them.
Now what do all three of these classes of player want/not want?
Johnny is a very self-motivated creature. He sets his own goals to count as "winning." Johnny makes factorio play "Still Alive" to win the game. He makes an Avi decoder and counts that as a win. Or he may decide to play the game with a self-imposed challenge like limiting his hand crafts or playing without bots just to see if he can. As long as you're giving Johnny tools he can combine to make cool things, he's happy. The circuit network alone is enough to keep Johnny satisfied. In the argument of Bots vs Belts Johnny either says "Self imposed no-bot challenge!" or "How can I use the circuit network to make the bots dance to the nutcracker suite?" (Somebody figure out how to do that. It would be awesome!) Johnny likes belts because he has to be clever about placing them, but he likes bots because they're flexible.
Johnny doesn't like boring things. If something makes the game less of a puzzle to put together he won't like it until he can figure out a way to make it interesting. But he also hates it when people take away his toys because more toys equals more potential fun.
In the Bot v. Belt war Johnny is generally neutral. His thought is "Don't like it, don't play with it. What's the big deal? I'm playing no bots this game. Next game I'm gonna try optimizing bot networks."
No. The Bot v. Belt war is an argument between Timmy and Spike.
Timmy wants to do the awesome thing. In factorio that usually means Rockets. LOTS of Rockets. But it could mean an Avi decoder. Whatever Timmy does, he wants it to be BIG though. The players who seriously consider or actually do build Megabases probably have a Timmy-streak. I know I do.
What does Timmy hate? He hates waiting for a payoff. He hates tedium. Anything that will get him to his goal faster he's all about. Timmy LOVES bots.
Spike wants to win. He's very competitive and he likes beating other people. He tends to be a PVP player, but in a single player game he likes the satisfaction of beating the computer. But he also has an underlying sense of rules and fairness. Fairness is VERY important to Spike. He likes mastering the rules of the game. ESPECIALLY the tricky fiddly rules like belts. Spike also likes optimization. If there are three ways to do something Spike will always choose the BEST way. If he doesn't know the best way, he will by gosh and by golly research and test until he FINDS it. If Spike builds a megabase you can bet it will be more compact and efficent than anything Timmy puts out.
Bots don't really have rules. They zoom stuff over the map and don't require much work to figure out. They certainly don't have the quirks or logical consistent behavior of belts. (Spike might like them more if they did.) in short: Bots CHEAT. Spike hates cheating. It's not enough to just tell him "Don't like, don't use," because he's still aware that there's a horrible rule that allows cheating sitting there in his game. He's also aware that bots are objectively the best option for at least some things...which means he feels compelled
to use these things he hates. Bots actively offend Spike. He generally doesn't like Mods much either, at least mods that change gameplay. He'll use a mod like the picker tool that adds a quality of life feature, but nothing that changes game balance. (Well, if he plays it enough that he's getting bored he might pick a mod that completely revamps everything and ups complexity, but he'll pick one that's BALANCED.)
The challenge a Dev faces is balancing these wants and needs that your TJ&S players have.
Ultimately, rather like Dwarf Fortress, Factorio is a game where the player makes their own fun. If you aren't willing to do that then eventually Factorio will not be for you.
Devs, I realize that as game designers you want to make a tight pretty elegant product. This is your Spike nature talking to you. But you made a sandbox game. Just because your product is tight and pretty and had all the bugs squished does not mean your players will produce elegant solutions. This is life. Not all solutions are satifying to all players in sandbox games. This is also life. Take your Spike side to get some Zen therapy. Make your Spike self a belt only challenge mode where trains and bots are forbidden. It will make your inner Spike happy. It will make your Spike players happy. Do not forget to embrace your Timmy nature and say "OH, THAT'S AWESOME!" when something in the game is. That little hit you get when all your bots zoom out of a new Roboport and you feel like a god? That's all it takes to satisfy Timmy players. Nurture those feelings and your Timmy players will love you. When you create a new thing and realize that it affects those five other old things in new and exciting ways and eagerly wait to see what the players will do with it? That's your inner Johnny. Find more of those moments and nurture them the most, because you have to be a Johnny to pick up this game. Johnny loves making decisions. Give him lots of them.
Players, you're playing a sandbox game. You make your own fun here. If you come up with a new solution and you find yourself getting bored then it really wasn't a solution after all because you're not having fun. Find a new solution.
Spikes, if your solution is "I hate bots and they suck and I want them all to go away!" that's fine. Just ignore them. Even if you're compulsively driven to research everything, you don't have to build them. There is no gun pointed at your head demanding you build a bot. They can just sit there in your menus like that useless pistol crafting recipe you have never used. No. I'm not being dismissive; I understand the pain you feel when you choose not to. I don't have a lot of Spike in me, but I have a little. But until the devs give you your belt only mode it will have to be called a self-imposed challenge. You can do it! I did it! It was hard and painful when I decided as a newbie player fresh out of the box to get that minimal handcrafting achievement. But I did it. And I was new and trains were confusing and bots were even worse so I did it all with belts. It can be done. You don't have to use the best option EVER. The best option ever is those horrible cheat mods that just make everything easy and what's the point? If you think logi-bots are unbalanced and cheaty that's all the excuse you need to never use them at all. You're a Spike! You play to win, but you win FAIR. Take pride in choosing the hard road. Just remember that Timmy and Johnny don't prioritize the way you do. You're not playing a first person shooter here. Not everyone has to come at this the same way. There are lots of tools in a sandbox game. Not all of them are meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
Timmy, remember instant gratification will eventually make the game boring. Don't complain too hard or act like it's the worst thing ever if the devs ultimately make small nerfs to your Logibots. They aren't taking them away from you. They already said so. (Devs, you might wanna make sure that you put that spider tank in the same release as any nerfed Logibots. If you give the Timmys a spider tank they probably won't even notice the bots took a little hit.)
Timmy and Johnny, understand Spike's pain and don't belittle him for it when he gets frustrated at being constantly taunted by a thing that offends him. (Don't you all just hate that stupid little pistol the game gives you when you die? Once you get your body back you have two of the useless things. I have fifteen of them in a crate. Mocking me. Telling me how often I've died. Reminding me of my failure. I want to stuff them in a furnace and watch them melt but I can't! and shooting the crate is just not satisfying...and it's wasteful.) Remember that Spikes are motivated by different things than you are. They aren't trying to take away your fun even if it seems like it.
Factorio's strength lies in its diversity and willingness to let us do utterly insane things few other games will even consider letting us do. Play to those strengths. Magic the Gathering deals with TJ&S by making sure they make cards that appeal to every player type. Not every tech or playing mode HAS to appeal to every player or even every type of player. We as players need to remember this too. If you don't like an element in the game it may be meant for a player who has a different style than you or who has a different skill level. That doesn't make it something broken that needs to be fixed any more than that Team Fortress 2 needs to make every player class a Heavy because you're bad at playing the Medic.
Bots, belts, and trains all have their plusses and minuses. Push their plusses and make it obvious to the players what their strengths are. We'll pick the techs that work best for our needs and circumstances. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the thing you find most fun about the game is the thing that should be most important.
In fact, I'm going to go further than that. We have rail world settings. Come up with bot-world settings and give us three challenges: Belt only, Bot only and TRAIN ONLY. Start us with that type of tech and make the other two post purple/yellow (or forbidden entirely if you're playing hardcore). You think belt spaghetti is bad? I'd like to see people handle inserter spaghetti with trains.
So a few points from the thread before I get tired of reading it because 28+ pages is ridiculous and just post this because I got sick of seeing people fail at reading comprehension:
1) No one seems to be complaining about construction bots. Make them two separate techs. Timmy loves bots. Johnny hates boring things, and manually laying out a problem you already solved and bluprinted is annoying. Spike could probably live with early construction bots because he still has to solve the problem, c-bots just speed up placing the solution. To make Spike happier: consider making the Roboport it's own tech and placing it AFTER personal Roboport in the tech tree. (It may make more sense to have it before based on how tech works, but Roboports are powerful objects you can set and walk away from. PRPs are limited to the area you're in and are much more like an extension of your own hand.)
2) Having a "Challenge" game mode where bots are disabled (And possibly some other techs) will go a long way to making Spikes happy. It may seem trivial to Johnnys and Timmys to just not play with a part of the tech tree you hate. But I'd hope it's almost as trivial to create a standard scenerio where some features just do not exist. Spikes like challenges. It feeds their competitive side. Conversely having a mode with a flatter faster tech tree will vastly appeal to Timmy who wants to get to the cool stuff sooner. Johnny will play in both of these modes and happily spend his time trying to break the game and make his computer beg for mercy.
3) Buffing is generally better than nerfing. Spike is the only player type who will be happy about it, but even he can find it irritating if he has to rebuild half his base. Johnny will be irritated but can deal and Timmy will hate it. Buffing things makes the game more awesome in general. (For the record nerfing the tankers was the right way to go in this case, because buffing everything else would have touched too many systems.)
4) Buff the belts. Green Belts that auto compact, carry stacks, and is a double decker with four lanes sound AWESOME. (Actually just the double decker aspect sounds good enough...but I'm designing my dream belt here so I'm packing everyone's good ideas into one uber-godlike belt!) Timmy gets uber powered stuff, Johnny gets to come up with new solutions to new problems, and Spike gets more tools that still follow complex rules. being able to more densely pack a higher belt, or even just having belts carry consistent quantities of stuff when fully compact is pretty much a necessity for belts to be competitive with bots in the late game. If you make a new belt it should be the belt of perfect awesome...that can still perhaps get more speed upgrades. (And if you make a double decker belt, give us a 1-4 splitter too! And elevated inserters so we can decide if we pick from the top or bottom belt!)
5) Encouraging base planning through mechanics sounds like a wonderful idea...to a certain kind of player. But it makes the learning cliff harder for newbies and it would make the game significantly less fun for Timmy.
6) Changing roboport linking is something to consider. Maybe linking could be an upgrade tech? (Or at least the abillity to turn off individual links so we can define our own networks!)
7) Achievements that encourage weird playstyles are your friend! Spike loves achievements, and Johnny loves ideas for weird things to do. If you want to promote belt play, come up with belt related achievements that have nothing to do with "miles of belt used in your factory."
8) Giving us more options on game generation to turn off techs we don't want to play with (or even turn on techs we should start with) and enforcing those settings in multiplayer is a good option just in general. It lets us start at whatever point in the game we feel like playing.
9) Two kinds of logibots might have potential. One for player use that's fast and is only limited by your PRP but can only refill you; and one for normal ports that has some additional limitations. (I don't know. I don't even use L-bots for refilling myself. I tend to forget that exists.) All I can say is they seem like good ideas to fork...but again, that's nerfing and you're going to irritate Timmy and Johnny if you go too far.
10) Beacons hurting the usefulness of belts is something to seriously consider. Belts being weak vs bots may actually not be the primary issue at all. If you increase beacon bonus caps, but don't permit beacon overlap so that you still get approximately the same max caps that frees up space for belts, which might make late game players more inclined to use them. (But I still want those green belts! gimmie!)
11) I'm not convinced that solar power being ultimately resourceless is a bad thing. (I like it as is, personally) but if we go with the argument of that being the real problem with bots... the most reasonable way to solve that is probably to give accumulators a shelf life of say 100x their max charge capacity or something before they fail and have to be replaced. You could give the panels an occasional failure rate too. (Not unreasonable actually. The things are terribly finicky even in real life.) Give us recipies or something to recycle spent panels and accumulators like we can with nuclear fuel.
12) I'm going to argue against land bound pathing for bots. Even if the player has to build defined lanes for them to run on I can't imagine anything that would KILL our computers harder than the devs having to code dynamic pathing for thousands of bots that always ran into each other. This is in no way a solved problem in video games (NP Complete problems are HARD!) and is one of the things that will make dwarf fortress cause your computer to cry for mercy. Factorio already does that to some players. Asking the devs to make it happen to everyone is a terrible idea. Forced flying from port to port and requiring clear paths between sounds more reasonable... but we already have trains.
13) actual underground belts a la technogen sounds like an awesome thing...for an expansion.
14) Forcing us to upgrade robots in a similar way to speed modules has plusses and minuses. It may lead us to treating them more like inserters: the right tool for the right job. It may also lead to pointless complexity. We have mods for that. Timmy will hate this unless it leads to bots that are demonstrably different in useful ways like the different kinds of inserters. Then he might be ok with it.
15) Changing bot stack size in ports is an interesting and simple option, and from what I understand overfilling your ports can actually kill your network stone dead once all those bots need to recharge at the same time if you have an inefficent network... maybe reducing stack size will solve a lot of the issues? It would be a very easy thing to test at least.
16) Late game belt splitters/combiners/dividers/balancers that can be used to manage belts more efficently in small spaces sounds like something useful to make...but only at a blue/green belt level I'd think. It's at least an option to consider. Belt spaghetti is fun (for most people) to figure out and run, and regardless it's a huge part of the game. But once you get to the point of beacons and packing for efficency being able to have 4 input lanes get balanced by something that's 4x2 instead of 4x8, or being able to split two belts to go from AABB to ABAB in 1x2 instead of 3x2 is a really big thing. Put these special items after purple and yellow science. Make us work for them, sure but space is at a premium by that point in the game. Give us more options. Filter splitters are a good idea too. Put loaders in as endgame spacetech.
17) Rate limiting chests to only accept one bot at a time is a nerf that will break factories and make people upset... but overall it's a comparatively small nerf that could be upgraded with research techs. You could compare it to the fluid wagon nerf.
18) Undergrounds on steroids belt teleportation systems: DEAR GOSH YES.
Yeah, I made it five pages before I gave up...Ah well.