published 11 Jan 2016

Welcome back everyone! I’ve had a bit of a break over the last two weeks. I should say “break”, because I’ve still been spending a minimum of 3-4 hours a day just keeping up with the day-to-day running of osu!. Going to take a moment to reflect on 2015 and figure out my intentions for 2016. Bear with me, as I am not one to plan ahead, so anything I say here is raw and volatile (as in I reserve the right to change my mind).

What did we get done in 2015?

  • Moved over 75% users to the new GL/.NETv4 branch. There’s still a few yet to make the plunge for one reason or another, but we still have some improvements that are yet to go live in the performance and compatibility department over the coming months which should move this number closer to 100%.
  • Released the osu! “nono” keyboard and many other new merch items on the store. You will honestly never understand how much goes on behind the scenes to make the web store run and how much I’ve put into getting it going smoothly. That said, things are setup really nicely now and we have many new products coming this year for those waiting for the perfect item. We are looking at improving distribution to EU countries which currently get hit by some weird customs/taxing practices enforced by the governments over there.
  • The osu! tournament system got a lot of work. As a result, all the official tournaments ran smoother than ever. We introduced the first money prize pool for OWC 2015, along with the profile banner system. We’re constantly working to make tournaments as enjoyable as possible for both participants and viewers.
  • We began releasing osu! exclusive tracks courtesy of nekodex and cYsmix. Going forward you will likely see a lot more of this, too!
  • We announced the new osu! website. While it’s still not complete after a year of development, it is getting closer to being a stable and usable replacement for the old site.

I’ve probably missed a lot out from this list, but these were the things which stood out to me.

What are we doing in 2016?

Development & Contributions

Let me start by saying that I’m never satisfied with my own progress. I expected to get a lot more done in 2015. This can mostly be attributed to overheads in my own workflow which move my time away from writing code, including accounting, management of others, email/support communications, community management and infrastructure requirement changes (due to things like DDoS attacks).

I spent more money than before on hiring staff to try and get more development time into the game to make up for the deficit caused by me handling other issues, but even with low expectations this failed to meet my minimum expectations. I’ve learnt a lot in the process and will be aiming to change direction in 2016. My motto has always been to throw solutions until they work, which sometimes includes failing along the way.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m forced to manage people. When employing people on a part or full-time basis, unless they are extremely self-motivated driven people, you are forced to micro-manage. This is not something I want to do and thus I won’t be doing it anymore. I want people who are contributing to osu! to be doing it because they want to; because they are driven to do so.

What does this mean for 2016? The direction is to open-source everything and allow absolutely anyone an opportunity to contribute. I get a lot of emails from people asking for employment, and while I’d love to allow them the chance, the overheads that come with this are just not sustainable.

So, I want to get all existing developers working on a contractual basis fulfilling feature requests and bug fixes on per-issue (or per-hour where necessary to ensure their survival) basis, paying out roughly what you’d expect as a full-time contractor to make this a sustainable system.

Yes, I may be blocking some people who require job security from contributing, but it also weeds out those who don’t have the confidence, skill or motivation to contribute in a meaningful and consistent manner. In return, I promise that those who do meet the requirements and contribute on a regular basis will be amply rewarded.

Anti-cheat & Bans & Appeals

Some of you more active in certain parts of the community may have noticed over the recent months that we’ve been more agile in handling cheater reports. I’m constantly evaluating how we are combatting cheating and altering the strategy as required. We’ve lost some battles in 2015 and cheating efforts continue to grow in size but we have weeded out some long-term cheaters that were polluting the system.

I haven’t been too vocal about what I think of cheating/hacking because I believe that keeping these efforts private allow us to have the edge on users trying to abuse the system, but this year I am going to try making our efforts more public than ever, hopefully allowing others to contribute to the endless fight to keep osu! an enjoyable environment for legitimate users.

I’ve always been under the belief that cheaters are fine to exist as long as other users are not disrupted. Now before you attack me for this view, hear me out - If we were out to catch every last cheater, you’d see the following happen:

  • There would be a lot less time dedicated to actual development and improvement of the game itself.
  • We would be forced to introduce more intrusive measures to ensure we had full control of the situation.
  • It would push cheaters to resort to new methods, like hardware devices, which would be undetectable to us.

Until now this approach has worked relatively well, although at time we have been too slow to respond to an obvious cheater. Going forward I want to ensure our response time to cheat reports is as close to zero as possible, to give cheaters the smallest publicity/exposure possible (after all, this is usually what they want). I have some ideas for new methods in this regards, but we’ll also be reaching out to the community for help - I’ve seen a lot of people that have already been able to help us catch people that we had no idea were cheating.

We still have some large areas to fix (such as spinner hacks), which I hope to attend to this year using replay analysis amongst other techniques, assuming no one beats me :).

As for ban/restriction appeals: the current system is completely unsustainable. We have 4-5 people working every day on handling appeals and even then we cannot keep up. On top of this, there are many cases where we make mistakes. People that cheat also excel at lying and making up stories, so it’s very hard to decide where to draw the line.

There’s also the recurring case of people getting denied appeals, then just using further hacks to bypass multi-account detection and come back up to 120 times on new accounts where they (usually) proceed to cheat again. It’s nigh-impossible to solve this with the current system. Ban appeals favour compulsive liars and make it hard for the actual honest users to return to the game.

Going forward, we need to automate this process. We need cheaters to be put in a state they are able to continue playing without disturbing the average user who does not want to be around cheaters. They need to be happy with the state of their account so they aren’t tempted to constantly make new accounts and pollute the system.

Having said all this, you’d think I have a solution all thought-out. I don’t. This is by far the hardest thing to manage in osu! - and I’d go as far as saying it’s the same issue plaguing every online game out there. No one has found a solution for this. Honestly there may be no perfect solution, but this is the problem which keeps me up at night. I still believe we can implement a system which adds incentive to not cheat which doesn’t need manual oversight from a team of paid staff.

I’m open to input as always.

At the end of the day, though…

A lot of people think I run osu! as a business. I do, but only to the extent that I pay taxes and keep accounts. That’s about as far as I take it - osu! to me is and has always been a project of mine. It started out as a hobby and has become something much larger. Just because osu! now has over 1 million unique users (playing each month), please don’t hold me to run it as if it was LoL, WoW or anything similar. Those companies make games to make money. I make games to provide entertainment. Please don’t assume I follow the same ideals or have the same goals as such companies.

Making money from osu! is a reality. We make enough to employ people to handle the osu! store, support tickets, develop features and run tournaments. We make enough to fund tournaments without additional sponsors, fund new merchandise development and help out users if support is required (for instance, I offer servers to people making services which are related to osu!). While I’d love to be transparent with the way we use money, I honestly have not done this because I don’t want to shift the focus. I don’t want to involve you all with the burdens of accounting. I want to keep osu! the same as it has always been: focused on the game, the players and the community.

Trust that I am trying my best to not waste your money. I invest every last bit back into osu!, pay myself just enough to survive and constantly review and adjust how we spend the money you support osu! with. I am extremely happy that I can run a service of this scale with no advertising, no crappy in-app purchases or DLC, all while keeping an uptime and update release cycle that exceeds all the major games out there.

In 2016 I hope to invest more money back to contributors via open-source. Once we have our ecosystem set up to accept contributions from anyone, this will remove the previous overheads which stopped me from paying out for smaller (possibly once-off) contributions and also remove overheads of contracts and employment while still allowing recurring contributors to make a living from helping out with osu!.

2016 will be the year the osu! client goes open source. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

2016 will also be the year of many many more osu! original track releases. We’re still working on the specifics of this but I’m super-excited and can’t wait to announce the artists we have on-board for releases this year. I want to make the music side of osu! sustainable, and give users more choice in the songs they can use to map (ie. we obtain the legal rights to map music for mapping, so you don’t have to).

Sorry if this post is a bit of a rant, but I wanted to share everything currently on my mind. I hope you can agree with the direction I’m taking things, but if not please be as vocal as you want!

Oh, and osu!next will happen this year. While 2015 was a realistic goal at first, I hope you can that in running and improving a service, deadlines sometimes get pushed only - not because we want to, but because we have to. More on osu!next in the coming blog posts, I’m sure.