atWar 2022 and beyond.
A new novel by Dave.
"Splendid." -- New York Times
"Incroyable! Un vrai tour de force." -- Le Monde
"Didn't read, way too f***ing long." -- Random atWar User
A new novel by Dave.
"Splendid." -- New York Times
"Incroyable! Un vrai tour de force." -- Le Monde
"Didn't read, way too f***ing long." -- Random atWar User
I enjoy reading "year in review" posts from others, but I never seem to find time to write my own. Nevertheless, atWar has been in my thoughts a lot lately, so I've decided to give it a try. Consider this my tardy report on the last 3 years of atWar, what I've been working on, and what my plans are for the future.
Origins of my ownership of atWar
To begin, I think I must recap the story of how I came to own atWar, since I realize there are many new faces around here who may not be aware of it.
I first became aware of atWar's existence when I read a post advertising it for sale, on one of the sites I follow. Over the past 6 years I have expanded my business, in part, by acquiring other small software businesses and adding them to my own. Initially my interest in atWar was purely along these lines -- that is, purely commercial. I was merely doing my due diligence when I signed up for an account and began playing a few games.
I immediately fell in love with the game, however. It was unavoidable. History and war are great interests of mine. I love strategy games in general, and Risk in particular. Suddenly I found my interest in atWar was no longer commercial at all -- I wanted to own atWar simply to guarantee it would continue to exist, and to be able to develop it in the direction I thought it ought to go.
That was in November 2018. By December, I was in negotiations with the original developers, Amok and Ivan. We agreed on a fair price and, next thing I knew, I was the proud owner of atWar -- including all the good and bad that that would entail! Thus it was, in 2019, that the "era of Dave" (if you will) began.
atWar was in a bad state when I bought it. It had (and still has) a lot of serious problems. Despite my occasional jokes about it (e.g. being "scammed by 2 Estonians", which was not actually said by me but I thought it was hilarious), the fact is, I was not under any illusions. I knew there was an angry, toxic community. I knew the game had been neglected for a long time. I knew there were bugs (although, to be fair, I underestimated just how many).
I had seen the player activity numbers, and I knew that atWar had been steadily declining since 2014. There is a saying in the investment world: "never try to catch a falling knife". In simple terms, don't invest in a failing business. I deliberately violated this rule in buying atWar, but again my interest was to keep it going, not make a profit. I knew it would be an uphill battle.
At any rate, I laid out these issues in my introductory post, atWar 2019 and Beyond. Essentially I stated three goals: 1) fix the toxic community, 2) fix the bugs, and 3) fix the declining activity problem. Everything I have done on atWar since then has been focused on these 3 problems, and more or less in that same order of priority. To be frank, I think we've made good progress on the first problem; only moderate progress on the second; and little to no progress on the third. Herein I will go into each of these in a bit more detail.
(Side note: I tend to use "we" a lot in talking about atWar, since it really is a group effort, but please don't think that I am avoiding responsibility for anything by so doing. Ultimately whichever decisions occur on my watch, good or bad, I am responsible for. Or, as I like to joke, I simply get blamed for everything. )
Fixing the toxic community
One of my very first thoughts about atWar, back when I was just doing my due diligence in late 2018, was "whoa! there are some crazy angry people here." I was shocked at the level of vitriol. There was a lot of anger against the original owners, which manifested itself in terrible forum flamewars, and once even an infamous player "strike". The anger spilled-over into other areas too. Players behaved absolutely rotten to each other. Vicious trolls were, apparently, largely tolerated. Despite the best efforts of the moderators, there was often little they could do about it. I've articulated all this before in other posts, so suffice to say, atWar in my view was a pretty wild place -- and not in a good way.
When you've got a problem with falling player numbers, as had been the case for several years in a row, it certainly doesn't help when you've got an environment that actively drives away new users. Clique-ish circles of high-rank players had formed, the members of which actively discouraged and drove away anyone who was not one of them. (I'm not accusing all high-ranks of doing this, but just stating it as an overall fact.) Moreover, bad behavior in general had been allowed to spiral out of control -- largely a result of the prolonged neglect of atWar by the original owners. (Again, I don't wish to blame Amok & Ivan too harshly as I can certainly sympathize with their predicament, but I think even they would be the first to admit that atWar had been neglected for too long.)
To deal with all this, I knew I was going to have to impose "law and order" on atWar. I knew that some section of atWar users would not like this very much (i.e. the troublemakers), and, to be honest, I was okay with that.
One of the very first things I did as owner was get to know the moderator team. This was important because they are the ones there in the trenches. They know what's going on better than anyone else. I was (and still remain) acutely interested to hear what our moderators thought, what they needed to do their jobs, and how I could help them. This led to me creating better tools for them, such as stronger banning systems, more and better logging to help root out hackers and cheaters, and in general anything I could do to make their quality of life better.
Our present moderator team is a fantastic group of people, and I respect every single one of them. I appreciate all the work they do -- completely as volunteers, and often while under intense criticism and scrutiny. It's a tough job. Lies and rumors have a way of flying around atWar with great rapidity, and the moderators are a favorite target it seems.
Nevertheless, despite many months of progressively stricter enforcement, some people just weren't getting the hint that we were trying to clean things up around here. There was a very small, but very loud group of troublemakers, whose long histories of mutes and bans had done nothing to improve their behavior. We reached the point where I had to ask myself, do we look the other way and let them continue ruining things for everyone else? No, that was not an acceptable option. What else could we do then? In the end, the only option left was to remove them from the game completely -- that is, to delete a few accounts. You may think this was harsh, and it was, but I am convinced it was the right decision. I do not regret it in the slightest.
I refer of course to the events of last November, where a few troublemakers stirred up an unusually intense drama, even by atWar standards. To be clear, the number of accounts that we actually deleted was a tiny number -- I think 4 in total (if I've forgotten someone, please correct me). These were people with long histories of bans, who nevertheless were actively continuing their bad behavior. These were people who were sending rude and insulting messages, even sometimes death threats, to various staff; defacing maps; and one guy even "nuked" (deleted and defaced) our official atWar Discord server, as well as another atWar server to which he had access, resulting in years of conversations being permanently and irretrievably lost.
By far the majority of accounts that got deleted, however, were deleted by the owners of those accounts themselves. In a nutshell, the pattern of escalation was this: we ban someone for quite legitimate reasons; they respond by telling their friends we "banned them for no reason" (a lie, obviously); the friends believe this and start acting out in retaliation; we ban them too; and so the cycle repeats. Eventually it went up to a new level when certain players started deleting their own accounts "in protest". After deleting themselves, they went around on Discord and other places falsely claiming that WE were the ones who deleted them -- another lie which stirred up even more anger. It should be obvious and go without saying, but we don't punish anybody unless we have very good reasons to do so. Sadly though, people are going to believe their friends even when they're lying, and nobody would bother to ask us what really happened.
So while in that dramatic week there was a great outpouring of hostility, the end result was that we finally were able to get a few people, who needed to go, out of the community for good. I am quite happy about this. I know that will sound controversial to some of you, especially those of you who feel it has made our activity problems worse. From my perspective, however, we can't move atWar forward until we've dealt with the community problem; we've been dealing with it for 3 years already, getting progressively stricter; finally we had no choice but to force the bad apples out. The last few months since have been the most calm and peaceful I have yet experienced on atWar, and I consider that a significant accomplishment.
Interestingly enough, it does not seem to have hurt our overall activity numbers at all -- in fact, they have improved. One of the metrics I watch daily is the "players active within last 30 days" number. You can see it on the atWar home page in the Battlefield Report section. By late October/early November, just before the drama, that number was down into the low 7000's. Today, as I write this, it has grown back up to about 9500, completely organically. I'm NOT saying that 9500 is a great number (it's not), nor am I saying that every problem is solved -- but I do take it as a small encouraging sign that we are doing the right thing.
Fixing the bugs
This is a delicate topic because I have the utmost respect for Amok & Ivan, and I sincerely do not wish to offend them. After all, they created atWar out of nothing. The concept of the game was solid, and they had great ideas. They saved the game from disappearing completely after Silverlight was killed off, by rewriting it as HTML5. They deserve credit for all of these things.
At the same time, however, I feel the need to be honest, and, if I'm being honest, the state of atWar's code as I received it -- was poor. I'm sorry, but as a programmer myself, it has been very frustrating to work on. Things that should be "5 minute fixes" regularly turn into multi-hour or even entire-weekend projects. Sometimes atWar code reminds me of a rotten onion -- what I think is a small surface defect ends up requiring me to peel away layer upon layer.
There are many reasons for this. I'll spare you the technical explanations (I'll keep those rants confined to my Developer's Corner), but the net result is that nothing ever quite works as you would expect it to. For example, tweaking a small, seemingly harmless UI element in one place, often ends up breaking some unrelated feature in some totally random other place. And, with everything being organized haphazardly, it takes forever sometimes just to *find* the bloody thing you're looking for, much less fix it.
And then, there are the security problems. There's no way to sugarcoat it: the atWar codebase is incredibly vulnerable to attack.
When I first started, there were so many glaring security holes it wasn't even funny. I'm not talking about theoretical problems here. I mean that literally any high school kid with a tiny bit of programming knowledge could hack us with little to no difficulty. Those of you who have been around atWar long enough have all seen this in some ways, like with people who used IE exploits to hack games, but this is just the easy stuff. There are far more dangerous problems just under the surface. If one knew exactly where to look, an experienced attacker could easily have done extensive, and permanent damage. (And it would have been permanent, seeing as atWar had no reliable backup system in place at the time.)
When I began seeing such obvious vulnerabilities in the atWar code, I had to do a double-take out of disbelief. Then I started testing a few different kinds of attacks and, just from what I could do casually in my browser, I was shocked to discover what the system let me get away with. The only thing keeping us safe was the fact that nobody else had access to the full source code, and therefore they simply didn't know where to go and what they could have gotten away with if they had. (In other words, our primary defense was "security by obscurity" -- and that's scary as hell.)
Clearly Amok & Ivan started becoming aware of these problems at some point, but by then I think the code was already riddled with literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of vulnerable points. Being far too much to deal with, especially given the limited time they had available, it is evident they tried to fix atWar with a few small, top-level patches. These helped, but were not 100% solutions. The only sure solution is to find and fix every single vulnerability at its source, and this is one of the projects I am still working on, bit by bit, even today. I have fixed a lot of the worst ones, but more still remain. (Forgive me for being deliberately vague here, but for obvious reasons I don't want to give away anything to those who would hack us -- we've had enough problems already.)
This is the reason why I've guarded the atWar code so protectively. Various members of the community have offered to help out with coding, and I have always turned them down, not because of them, but because I can't take any chance of the atWar source code getting out. I have been totally unbending in this regard, but I think you can understand my reasons -- if the complete source code ever got out, we would be hacked and shut down in no time.
With all it's many problems, I realized long ago that almost all of atWar's code needs a rewrite. From a programming perspective, it would almost certainly have been easier to throw the whole thing out and start over from scratch. However, if I had decided to spend all my time writing "atWar 2.0", then atWar 1.0 would have continued to be neglected for a long while, and the community would have continued to deteriorate. And, after all, the most valuable asset of atWar is not the code, but rather it's user database and community. (Anybody with some programming skill could go out and code a game like atWar tomorrow -- but to build up a community starting from zero? That is INCREDIBLY hard. As someone who has personally spent countless hours creating SaaS apps from scratch and trying to get them off the ground, believe me, coding is the easy part.)
So, I made the decision to fix atWar little by little, and to rewrite and improve things gradually as we went along. It's a bit like trying to replace the wheels of a car while it's moving and you can't stop, but I felt it was the best choice given the circumstances.
How much progress has been made so far? In short, not as much as I'd like, but still more than most people realize. It's difficult to measure precisely, because some tasks may take 5 minutes, while others may take an entire weekend or, in some cases, months. But just for amusement (and because I like data) I counted up the number of commits and the number of bugs that have been fixed so far. (For you non-programmers out there, think of 1 commit as 1 coding task completed.)
Since I took over, a total of 713 commits have been made to atWar's main code repositories. 683 of these are from me; 30 are from Clovis when he was helping out. Among my 683 commits, I've fixed at least 112 distinct bugs which had existed since before my time. (I did not count any bugs I caused myself and later fixed.) That works out to an average of about 1 bug fixed each week. If only I knew exactly how many bugs were still remaining I could give a percentage of progress, but unfortunately the final number remains unknown.
Some of the bugs I've fixed include ones you may remember: the broken "map preview" function; the infamous ignored spectators bug; various problems on mobile like not being able to scroll; being unable to start CWs on custom maps/scenarios; many IE exploits, like the unlimited starting funds exploit, and others; General images not updating; maps not cloning correctly; and lots of forum bugs, security problems, misc. website bugs, map editor bugs, etc. (You can read about these and other changes on the atWar updates log.
Each time I work on a particular area of the code, I rewrite chunks of it and do whatever I can to untangle the old mess a bit. Even so, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. There is still so much more to go.
Fixing the activity problem
I now turn to the third, and most important, of the goals I outlined. Except for the spike in 2020 thanks to Coronavirus-induced lockdowns, atWar's activity has been gradually declining since 2014. From the very beginning, I knew I must find a way to reverse this trend. So far, however, nothing I've done has made much of a difference.
The first two topics I've discussed -- the toxic community and bugs -- were certainly contributing to the decline in various ways, and solving those problems has been important. Putting those aside however for the moment, the activity problem can be divided into two parts: getting new users, and keeping those users around once they arrive.
To get new users, we look at the topic of marketing. Early on I started testing the waters for different ways of advertising atWar, to see what would give us the best result. One after the other I put money into Google ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Bing ads, Twitter ads, YouTube ads, and yes, even PornHub ads. I even tried sponsoring a video from a well-known YouTube channel (Kings and Generals), which cost thousands of dollars. All of these efforts can be summed up -- as one big waste of money. (Which is why I laugh whenever I see someone saying things like "why doesn't Dave advertise? If I owned atWar I would just spend $10K on [pick your favorite type of advertising here] and solve all our problems." Yeah, sure bud.)
But why has our marketing been so unsuccessful? Is it that I don't know how to market software products? No, since I've had good success growing my other software products, I don't think lack of knowledge or experience is the problem. Is it possible that atWar is too much of a special niche to be successful? No, some of my other software products are in even smaller niches, and that hasn't been a problem for them. Is it that browser games are simply past their time? Maybe, but considering how well other browser games have done (for example, Krunker), this can't explain everything. What else can it be?
The answer, I believe, has to do with user retention. atWar has plenty of traffic coming in the door. We have plenty of new users signing up each month -- typically at least 4000 new accounts (excluding guests) register every month. (I know, half of those are probably alts, but we'll ignore that for the moment.) During the peak of the Coronavirus, that number reached as high as almost 17,000 in one month (March 2020). If we retained even just a fraction of those accounts as active users, atWar would be hopping with activity. Unfortunately, this is not the case. About 80% of new users are gone within the first 24 hours, never to return again. Only about 5% stay active for 30 days or more. That means we are, on average, adding about 200 new active players each month, but this is not quite enough to offset what we usually lose per month from normal churn.
(For what it's worth, even though I've been transparent and have explained atWar's user numbers like this before, there is always someone shocked to hear we have this many new users coming through. I've even been accused of fabricating crazy numbers out of my ass -- as if lying would accomplish anything? Well, the numbers are what they are. The people who make these accusations have myopic vision when it comes to anyone NOT in the competitive scene -- for them, anyone who doesn't play competitive might as well not exist. That really sucks for all of those who circulate through the beginners and casual lobbies, who could be reached out to and trained, rather than simply ignored.)
The future of atWar relies on finding new, active users to grow our userbase with. I have therefore been intensely interested in finding out exactly where and when we lose new players. The are many potential loss points in the lifespan of a user -- starting with the account registration form itself, getting through the tutorial, playing their first game, reaching ranks 1, 2, 3, and beyond. The probability of leaving is the highest at the very start, and decreases with each successive step. In other words, the more steps they get through, the more likely they will stay as an active user. So it is VERY important to me to focus on what happens in those earliest stages, from signup to reaching, say, rank 4.
In the early days I spent a lot of time lurking on alts in the beginners lobbies, trying to see where things went wrong. I also recruited help from friends who had never played atWar in their life, putting them through the tutorial and getting their feedback (which led me to re-writing almost all the text of the beginner's tutorial). All of that was helpful, but it was largely anecdotal evidence. That is, it's easy for people (myself included) to point to this or that and say "here's a problem", but what I really need to know is, "how much of a problem?" To focus my efforts in the right direction, I look to data to guide me, but in the early days of atWar, useful data was hard to come by.
Since day-1 I have used two analytics platforms on atWar -- Google Analytics and Piwik. These give me good info about overall traffic numbers and patterns, but nothing about what users were doing within the game itself. Ordinarily I could integrate one or both of those platforms' tagging systems to get down to that level of detail, but in the case of atWar code and everything being so messy and disorganized, I just didn't think the normal way of doing things was going to work the way I wanted. I made the decision, then, to build a custom analytics system for atWar.
AtWar's analytics tool went live last October. It's nothing fancy, but it allows me to find where the problems are, to test out possible solutions using A/B tests, and, using real data as my guide, to make decisions. Its first use was to examine the user registration process in close detail, which has already led to a revamp of the entire signup page. For example, too many potential new users who tried to sign up but faced needless difficulties, like solving the stupid captcha, simply gave up and went away. (The captcha, which I've gotten rid of, was truly worthless anyway -- I long ago installed better ways of detecting and weeding out the bots.)
From there, I look at the tutorial. As I said before, my human "test group" gave me valuable feedback here, which I used to re-write much of the content. Now the analytics tool is allowing to make further adjustments based on data. (As an aside: the intermediate and advanced tutorials I've created placeholders for are being worked on by various staff members, but there is less urgency here. It's the beginner's tutorial that's by far the most important. Whether or not a new user makes it through the beginner's tutorial is a huge predictor of whether they will stay and become active players, so it's critical we solve as much as we can at that level.)
This is also why I created the Supporter's /help system, which as you may recall never existed before. This is an important piece of the puzzle, giving new players a way to get help in real time, rather than being alone and ending up quitting in frustration.
If a player makes it all the way into their first game, another common point at which they fall off and disappear is while waiting for turns to end. That 2-3 minute wait with nothing to do but stare at the screen is often the kiss of death for new players who haven't yet decided if atWar is worth the wait. (Besides often losing players at this stage, it's also annoying to the other players who had waited so long for their game to fill, only to see people disconnecting so soon.) I'm working on a possible solution for this -- its a "side game" people can play to keep themselves entertained while waiting for the turn to end. (I don't want to say much else about this project yet, it will be a surprise.)
Speaking of filling games, this is another problem which is felt by players of all ranks. The addition of AI players, as I plan to do, would help relieve this situation, but unfortunately for the moment this project is still a long way off. Creating the AI is not the problem... it's integrating it into the existing atWar code that I haven't yet figured out how to do. (I will figure it out, but for now my initial investigations have just told me "it's gonna be a bitch", and I haven't had a prolonged period of free time to deal with it further.)
I do try to keep our old-timers and high ranks engaged as well but, to be blunt, it has been a lessor priority. For the most part I have tried just to do easy things which take very little of my time but show that progress is being made. Things like rolling out the buildings update, strategy updates, and running the CW season are very, very minor things, but since high ranks are not likely to know about the things I'm working on behind-the-scenes, or that are focused at new users, it's important there are at least *some* visible changes for them too. (I point this out because I've heard the line many times, "why is Dave wasting time with strategies nobody cares about, instead of [whatever thing you think is more important]?" The truth is, I hardly spend any time at all on strategies and such.)
So far I've spent a lot of time talking about user retention, or keeping users. Let me go back to the topic of getting new users in the first place. As I said before, we get on average about 4000 new accounts per month. Roughly speaking, about 50% of that traffic comes to us from Google searches; about 25% is from Kongregate; and everything else (social media, other search engines, blogs, etc.) comprises the rest. Excepting the big Coronavirus spike, these numbers have stayed basically the same over the last 3 years.
Now, supposing we could increase our traffic coming in, even knowing that our user retention is so low, could we increase our numbers? Absolutely, yes. Advertising is the easiest way to do this -- and from the ads we've run I can definitely say that people click on them, and they do lead to increased traffic. The problem is that advertising has a cost. As I've already described, our advertising efforts have been a huge waste of money -- roughly speaking, for every $1000 I spend on advertising, I'll get back at most $50 in new activity. I'd be better off digging a hole in the backyard and dumping my cash in it. With my other software products I get tremendously better results, but not with atWar. Our terrible user retention numbers, combined with how poorly the game is monetized, make advertising a waste of time. Until that situation changes, I don't intend to waste any further significant amounts of money on it. (The only advertising I keep going is about $100/month of Google ads, just to keep tracking their ROI.)
Another way of increasing traffic, theoretically for "free" (well, excepting the cost of my own time), is SEO. If we can improve our SEO and get more free traffic from Google, so much the better. Nevertheless, SEO is a frustrating topic. If you ask 10 different "SEO Experts" for their opinions, you'll get 10 different answers, and none of them will give you any hard data to back up their claims. They may all be correct, but if I'm going to invest hours of my time tweaking our site for SEO purposes, I need some way of measuring the impact. I'm not going to just roll the dice and hope for the best. I need to know what worked and what didn't, so that I'm not just wasting my time.
Last summer (around May/June 2021) I did notice a significant dropoff in our traffic from Google, apparently the result of one of their algorithm updates. I decided I needed to take the "SEO project" a bit more seriously, and invest more time in it personally. I signed atWar up for a Semrush account (a popular, albeit expensive, SEO tool) and have been using that to measure the results of my progress. There are so many different metrics one might look at, but just for one example I've been looking at our Domain Authority score. After Google's algorithm update, our DA dropped from 41 (where it had been steady for a long time) down to 32. After making some improvements, our DA reached as high as 55 last December. (Last month it dropped again to 46, indicating further work is needed, but we're still better off than we were before.) At any rate, our Google traffic levels are back to where they were before the algorithm change, so I think we are on the right track. (But, as with everything, it's an ongoing project...)
Another idea that's been suggested is to expand atWar onto other platforms, like Steam, or creating a mobile app. These would have the effect of potentially driving a lot of new users to us, but for various reasons I have been dragging my feet on this. I am concerned, for example, that putting ourselves on Steam or in the app stores given atWar's current condition would just lead to tons of bad reviews and ruin our chances of success. Perhaps I am being too cautious -- perhaps I should just do it anyway and see what happens. I do plan to do both Steam and mobile apps at some point. Maybe I should just do it now? These are questions I still ask myself.
I would feel much more confident about Steam and mobile if I could see some improvement in our user retention numbers first. This is the biggest thing I focus on. So far, it seems like nothing I've done has moved the needle. But as I've just outlined we have several projects in progress and perhaps it is just a matter of time until I find the right combination of things to bring our numbers up. I definitely would prefer to improve our user retention rate so that, when we do open up on Steam and mobile, it won't be a wasted effort.
I have now discussed at length the problems facing atWar, and the things we're doing about them. I now want to turn to a few of my own personal experiences with running atWar for the last 3 years.
Owning atWar has been a fascinating experience for me. I've met some really good, decent, like-minded people here, for which I'm grateful. There are also plenty of morons around here, for which I'm not so grateful, except that it has been a learning experience for sure.
It has been fascinating to watch first-hand how conspiracy theories form and spread around. It's a strange feeling when someone makes up a conspiracy theory about you, and you find yourself accused of something you KNOW you haven't done. No matter how false it is, convincing the other guy of the truth is impossible. The more you try to say the truth and defend yourself, the more the other person believes you're guilty. It's a fucked up aspect of human psychology. Once people believe something, no facts in the world will change their mind. It makes me have a little sympathy for public figures who, I realize now, must endure these kinds of problems all the time.
For example, I remember one guy claimed I was using atWar to mine Dogecoins. I never have. The basis of his claim was this: he went poking around in his browser console looking at atWar's scripts, even though he wasn't a programmer and didn't understand what he was looking at, he found the word "doge" somewhere, and concluded I must therefore be mining Dogecoins. The script he was looking at was actually Piwik, one of the analytics platforms I use, and it had nothing to do with Dogecoins. The Piwik source code is open-source and he could easily verify that fact for himself if had wanted to. Well, I explained all these facts to him, and he agreed that it all seemed fine and logical. He then continued to spread the same rumor for months regardless. I had told him the truth, and he refused to believe it.
Another guy once claimed that I rigged a CW season to earn some ProtoCoins. This was the first season in which I had introduced betting. The funny thing is, the guy who made this claim was THE VERY GUY WHO SET THE ODDS for the bets! We had been communicating regularly and, so I thought, building a good rapport. I, and everyone else, had expected a certain clan to win, based on the way the games had been going for the whole season up to that point. The community largely felt the same way, judging from the fact most people had bet on that clan too -- so many bets, in fact, that I was set to "lose" when the inevitable payout would have to be done. Of course I wasn't really bothered by this, since ProtoCoins don't actually "cost" me anything! Well anyway, on the last day of the season, I went to bed expecting the payout would be the first thing I'd have to do the following morning. When I awoke, I was as surprised as anybody to see that a different clan had come in at the last minute and won the season. Suddenly this guy started accusing me of arranging it on purpose! The truth is it was a fluke -- and I was literally asleep when it happened! Nevertheless, he quit in protest of my apparent "corruption".
Another odd thing is when I've seen people claiming "Dave said [this]" or "Dave said [that]", when I had neither said this nor that, nor even spoken to the person making the claim! And then there are some people who ascribe evil intentions to everything I *do* say. No matter how much I try to be careful and accurate with my words, no matter how much I try to be frank and honest, there are people who will read this post and twist my words into things I never even thought of. Even though I put a lot of effort into making sure the facts I state are correct, some people will accuse me of lying. Its offensive, but I can only imagine that the people who do it are projecting their own difficulties with the truth.
I will share a personal story here -- I hesitate to do so, because I know it's yet another thing someone will twist and use against me somehow, but I don't care anymore. When I was growing up, my father was one of those guys who had to be an expert about everything. Even when he knew nothing about a particular topic, rather than admit it and use that as an opportunity to maybe learn something, he would bluff his way through. He could make sweeping pronouncements on just about any topic. Nobody knew more about anything than he did. It might have been a remarkable skill, were he not totally full of shit.
Why do I share this? Because I think that's the reason why I'm so concerned with being honest. If I don't know something, I say it. How many times have people asked me about how something works on atWar and my reply is "I have no idea"? That doesn't mean I don't care (as some people may construe it to mean), or that I'm too stupid to find out, but simply that, at that particular moment, I don't know. If it's important, I'll find out about it.
Sometimes though, the brain plays tricks and I think I know the answer, but I end up being wrong. When that happens, I go out of my way to go back and correct myself. Sometimes even if I was off only by a small amount, I still have to go back and fix it. For example (just hypothetically) if somebody asked me when was the last time I went to San Francisco, and I answered off the top of my head "January 15th", then later I look at my calendar and happen to realize it was actually January 18th, I will call that person back and correct myself! "Hey, sorry, I gave you bad information, it was actually January 18th". Even if it doesn't really matter, I just can't stand lying, whether intentional or not.
This is also why I end up using a lot of "hedging language". You may have noticed it in this writing. I refer to numbers "roughly speaking", "on average", or "about" a certain amount. That way I can give you the general facts without getting hung up if I'm off a little bit one way or the other. For example, I could say that atWar had 4372 new users in November, 4292 in December, and 4504 in January. These are all the true, exact numbers, but I had to look them up just now. Or, I can just say atWar gets "on average 4000 new users" each month, and carry on with my life, my conscience being clear. Maybe some people interpret my hedging language as an attempt to manipulate the truth -- it's not.
All these things are things I had never really thought about prior to atWar -- i.e. before I had to interact with people who dissect and analyze my words, looking for anything they can use against me. (No, I don't think everyone does that... it's really just a tiny percentage of the people I hear from, but it still makes me think so carefully about my words now.)
I'll share one more personal story. It's something I actually shared once before, a couple years ago when I did an AMA post here on atWar. At the time, I was trying to raise money for something I wanted to do to expand my business. Even though my business was doing well, I didn't have piles of cash sitting around at that moment. I mentioned that I was planning to get a job as a programmer again for a while, so I could earn the money I needed for my business. It takes money to make money, as they say, so unless you are independently wealthy (which I was not, having started my business from zero), building a business is tough. I thought that being willing to do whatever I had to do to build my business was a good thing.
Not so, apparently, in the eyes of some. I remember one guy who thought it was funny I was such a "loser" for being "poor" and having to go back to work. (Strictly speaking I was not "poor" and did not "have to" go back to work -- I would have been fine without it, but it was just that I wanted to raise some extra cash.) Anyway, that guy didn't like me very much already (and, frankly, I didn't like him much either -- he was an asshole), so the fact he would try to insult me was not surprising at all. The lesson I learned from that was rather about how something I saw as a virtue could be twisted around and thrown back at me as a weakness. It's yet another reminder to me to be so careful with my words.
As an aside, just to tie up that story, here's what happened: I did get a programmer job, which I worked for about 6 months. I got the money I needed, and then in March 2020 I quit. This was as the Coronavirus lockdowns were happening; atWar and the rest of my businesses were all taking off, and I wanted to pour my maximum energy into taking advantage of the spiking activity. I haven't worked for another client since, and I don't plan to. My business has grown enough that finally I am able to accumulate savings on my own now, without any outside work.
One of the things I'm NOT good at, I admit, is keeping up with communications. As I get older, I rely on my staff more and more to help me with this. I do answer as many as I can personally, but I often need a little reminding not to forget. That's because if I don't do something immediately, weeks may go by until I get back to it again. I'm sure I've offended many people by my late replies, without ever intending it. (If so, I'm sorry!)
Speaking of communications... somebody recently asked me if I "could live off the income atWar makes, or no way?" -- my answer, after a hearty belly laugh, was "no way!". Not even remotely close. I'm happy it pays for itself most of the time, but I don't count on any income from atWar in my monthly budget.
No, atWar continues to be a labor of love. I won't even try to calculate the value of my time that I've invested in it. Despite the drama, I do enjoy working on it. I often end up working on atWar whenever I need to take a break from the significantly less interesting work I have to deal with for my other software products.
So there you have it, a summary of all the main things which have happened and are happening on atWar. If you have made it this far, I thank you, from the heart. I hope my comments have helped explain why certain things are happening, and what you can expect in the coming year. I hope I can do another "year in review" post at the end of 2022 with some bit of good news, for a change. *fingers crossed*
P.S. If you wish to contact me -- please note I am not reading my PMs anymore, nor am I reading the forums, apart from occasionally checking the Bugs forum. The atWar staff know what they are doing and they can help you with any issues you may have. However if you want to talk with ME specifically about anything, the best way to reach me now is the Contact form. My corporate staff check these messages Monday-Friday, and anything that needs my personal attention will be forwarded to me. I respond to as many as I can. (Except rude or spammy messages, which are filtered out by my staff and never reach my eyes. So keep it respectful if you want me to see it.) Thanks for your understanding.
P.P.S. How did I ever find the time to write such a long post? In a word: insomnia. This project started about a week ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep, as often happens. I decided to try something different for a change, so I grabbed my tablet and just started typing. I apologize in advance for any bad grammar or misspellings which may have resulted.