A Chapter Ends, A New One Starts

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Hattrick.png This is an official Hattrick Editorial
originally published 2013-09-01 10:37:00 by HT-Johan

The old owners of Hattrick are back, and we have a lot to talk about. I'd like to start this editorial with a statement, which was already posted in the Global forum a few weeks back. I will shorten it a little here; if you want to read it all or participate in the discussion around it, you are welcome to do that here. When you've read about what has happened, I will talk about what we plan for Hattrick in the future. And that's the fun part.

On August 5, the old owners of Hattrick (which includes myself and my Hattrick co-founder HT-Daniel) reached an agreement with Zattikka to buy back the game.

Zattikka had been in financial trouble for some time and there was a real risk that these problems would lead to disrupted operations of Hattrick, or even to the game being sold off at auction.

We are very pleased that through this settlement we know that the game is secure: Hattrick will continue to run for a long time into the future, we'll continue to develop it, and we'll honour any money spent by users during the previous ownership on things like Supporter and Credits.

Then it also has to be said that this turn of events have led us to reevaluate a lot of things.

When we decided to sell a little over a year ago, we were at a crossroads with what we wanted to do with the game. User numbers had been declining and it was harder and harder to argue that we should invest more development effort into the game.

Zattikka represented a positive vision for HT, they believed they could grow the game and the business. So we sold, inspired by joining a larger group and by seeing where the new relationship could take the game.

As is often the case, things soon turned out to be more complicated. Working as a public company brings a lot of administrative burdens that take time away from the creative work. It also brings big costs. It turned out to be harder and more expensive than expected to grow the game.

More and more attention was directed instead at growing the short-term revenue from existing users, through a never ending series of campaigns and discounts.

One thing that I think was most frustrating for the "old" HTs was that, in the end, many decisions were pushed through even though we knew they were too short-sighted. We have always had an extremely long-term view of the game, which pairs badly with being a public company that has to show nice results every quarter.

Sadly we were proven right. As we take Hattrick back again, we can make the observation that the business is in a lot worse shape than it was when we sold it. To speak plainly: Massive amounts of Supporter has been sold, deeply discounted, and the money is gone with Zattikka, a company that has now entered administration and will probably cease to exist before long.

The average Supporter today has around 270 days left before he or she needs to renew, almost double compared to 18 months ago. All of this means we will have tighter resources as it may take a year or more for us to "catch up" to a normal sales rate. We must simply find better ways to earn money for the game than Zattikka did. One example is that we will stop giving general discounts, and that we will review the decision to have different pricing in different countries. The game itself will of course stay free for all to play.

As we once again prepare to run this game, we want to be very realistic about where we are as a business.

What makes Hattrick stand out, gloriously, is the tight and loyal community and the users that have stayed around for 5 or 10 years. We shouldn't chase growth at any cost. Maybe Hattrick will never again be a game that grows. In fact, it's quite likely that the decline will continue for some time. We accept that, and rather than just focus on user numbers we instead want to make it our mission that the game is fun for those of you that actually are here to play it. Maybe we can reach a plateau from where things stabilise or even grow, but it's OK if that doesn't happen. The only thing that isn't OK is that we waste our time on stuff that is irrelevant to our core users or to the running of the game.

In this new start of Hattrick, we will settle back into a considerably smaller HT team, at a cost level that we think will be sustainable for many years to come.

We'll simplify our job by doing away with much unnecessary work. With fewer developers, we'll need fewer managers. We'll market through happy users rather than through advertising partners. We won't keep separate devs to work on smartphone apps, but we may extend capabilities for CHPPs that want to do the same. The list goes on. Our focus will be to operate the core game and make well-considered additions to it, hoping for your continued support as we do that.

The new smaller team will contain some really great people with a lot of insight and dedication for Hattrick, such as HT-Gusy and HT-Bodin, backed up by HT-Daniel who has always been the grey eminence of Hattrick development. But we will part ways with several old friends as well, such as HT-Klas and HT-Tjecken, which feels momentous and sad right now. I will stay, as well, and take a larger responsibility for the community together with HT-Aartspam.

So, what about our plans for the game, and all the things that have been promised in the past?

First of all, we want to reset your expectations. We will base every decision on our new situation, what is best for the game right now. This means that we may not keep all "old" promises about development. But we think we can instead make new better choices instead.

Last week, we sat down to draw up our first new roadmap. Aside from the "anniversary feature" which users can currently vote on, we will also wrap up two projects that we "inherit" from the Zattikka days.

The first one is a new redesigned start page. This is not a big project, but it looks good and we want to test the new design to see if it performs better.

The second is our new tutorial system for new users. This project has been in tests for more than a month, and is showing very promising results - retention of new users have increased by around 20%.

For the rest of the autumn, we will have two main themes.

One is that we will work on a new staff system. We will go for a design that we can continue to build on, something that is better than what we have today but perhaps not as sexy and dynamic as the system discussed in the past. We want to get away from endless design discussions to faster implementation of stuff that works, is fun, and can be improved later.

Secondly, we will do some heavy lifting for CHPP. We believe that with the smaller team, there is no way for us to continue to invest in our own mobile apps. The best way we can serve the larger user community is by making it as easy as possible for our CHPP developers to build amazing apps and websites. So you can expect support for a wider variety of game functionality before the end of the year.

Aside from this, we will continue to improve Supporter and our other products, such as Tournaments. And we may add new payment options in the Shop. We want our development time to be as focused as possible on core functionality for users, but we can't forget to keep improving the services that ultimately pay for this free game, either.

It will also be part of our philosophy to keep things as simple as possible, and part of this is to remove things we don't like or that aren't working. The first thing on that list is the Offerwalls functionality that was introduced by Zattikka. We've received many complaints about Offerwalls, and we can only agree that Hattrick is better off without them. Users that have Reward Points on their account should make sure to use them, as it won't be possible to earn any more going forward.

We are also removing the old SMS messaging system. Since the takeover, we no longer have a functioning contract for the SMS delivery. Since the service has been used by very few users for the last years, we think the time has come to retire the system rather than spend time on new contracts and integration. Instead, we aim to improve support for smartphone notifications as part of our CHPP project.

Personally, I am grateful for having had the chance to see Hattrick from the outsider's perspective for a little over a year. I know that there are many things we have done wrong in the past. But we've always kept the long-term viability of the game first and foremost. And I do think we will do a better job now, given the second chance, than what we've seen in the past year.

We want to continue sharing and enjoying this journey with you. We hope you feel the same way!