There, hooked you with the dramatic title!
But yeah. Looking at Steam Charts, today has been the lowest count in player number since launch. I'm currently seeing only 1,100 players online. Clearly not ideal.
I'd like to offer my own analysis as to what was done wrong with the launch, development and what's currently holding the game back. I'm not necessarily offering many solutions, as for those I'd like to be paid a competitive hourly salary. Ha, just kidding, but nah, 100% my own opinions and of course the developers of this game are the professionals and have their own ideas. I'm simply wanting to offer my feedback as a customer.
The launch. I think this is where the biggest mistake was done. The game was launched just prior to Christmas and the developers went for their well-deserved vacations, leaving the game largely unpatched for the next three months. There was one small patch soon after the launch and then - silence.
The problem here was that nowadays players really expect the developers of a game to show that they are active and that new content is well on its way. There doesn't even really have to be such new content, but there has to be the strong impression that lots of content is coming. Also, there were several big streamers showing off Sandstorm after launch. Keeping updates coming would have given motivation for these guys to come check the game out again, massively increasing its reach. With the failure to capitalize on social media, the streamers and the tubers, the game ended up not even being heard of by a large part of its potential playerbase. I know several people who like tactical shooters and hadn't heard of this game anything whatsoever until I've talked about it.
Of course I understand that the developers wanted some time off after probably having been on the dreaded crunch time the last months, but anyway, handling the launch like this was a mistake. There should have been a steady streams of updates, even very minor updates, following the launch. If it would have been impossible to introduce any changes that fast, then some stuff should have been deliberately left out of the game to be added gradually over the next half a year. This gives the impression that the game is moving forward and that's what gamers nowadays want.
Matchmaking Experience In Comp
Unfortunately to me at least this has been one hugely disappointing part of the game. The matchmaker can not create even close-to balanced games. In part, that is due to the low player count, but I see stuff like one team having only level 60+s who all play on a competitive level while the other team has only genuinely new players. Those games end 5-0 basically every time. No one wants to come to a game and end up losing the first ten matches they have. If that had been my experience, I'd quit, too; but since I had played lots of Insurgency 2014 and was often grouped up, I pretty much immediately went for a +50% winrate.
By now though, if I solo queue, it's just an exercise in frustration and I don't feel like doing it anymore. It's stomp or be stomped.
So I run GTX 1080 with Ryzen 2600 and appropriately fast RAM. And I still have FPS issues. I have AO off, most settings on medium or low, and nope - I still fall below 100 FPS all the time. Which is annoying, because once you're playing on a certain level, it really does matter if you're getting a smooth 144hz or if the FPS is fluctuating between 80 and 150. A topic I made on the matter was never answered to by anyone.
Part of the reason Ins2014 was popular was because it could be played by lots of people. But with Sandstorm, everyone without at least a medium tier gaming PC has been cut off.
Lack of Microrewards
So something I like to reference a lot in discussing game design is reward systems and behaviorism. We humans like to be constantly rewarded for our actions. We need to get feedback assuring us that our actions are the right ones.
With Sandstorm, there's simply not enough feedback for the casual player. There's not enough points being given, not enough medals, not enough rewards during the gameplay. Reward does not automatically mean that the player must be given like, virtual money or something; it's more about having immediate positive feedback for correct actions. Stuff like "Saved a teammate! +100 score!" and so on. It's possible to add these even to hardcore tactical shooters. Squad has more such mechanics, for example, without being any less hardcore than Sandstorm!
The credits & cosmetics system is one example of a reward system, but it's too shallow and too indirect. Players need to feel rewarded for their actions in the game and they need to feel rewarded immediately. For competitive players, capturing that point and getting that one crucial kill is all it takes, but casual players need more than that. Half of casual players play below average (obviously) and are not getting many kills or many caps. They still need those sweet sweet scores and they still need that positive feedback.
Poor (or impression of poor) Developer Communication
There's not really too much interaction and communication coming from the developers. The vast majority of threads, even large, popular threads, are left unanswered. The update threads and blogs are not too active either. Nowadays gamers expect weekly or bi-weekly updates, posts and sneak peeks. Not monthly or bi-monthly. And leaving bug report posts etc unanswered is really just demotivating people from investing to playing the game long-term.
Slow Rate of Bugfixing
So there's a bunch of known bugs. Sometimes when someone speaks, audio cuts off for a while and you can't hear e.g. bullets or footsteps. The replay player doesn't really seem to work reliably at all - sometimes you can't change camera from some reason, sometimes you can't rewind the replay, sometimes everything just bugs out if you speed it up for a while. There's FPS issues, there's still the occasional crash. There's doubts around the hit registration and hit box qualities.
I really feel that fixes should trickle in even one by one.
Well, I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but that's the bulk of it.
I love Insurgency's competitive mode's unique mechanics, I really do, but at the moment I've trouble trusting the longevity of the game. I hope I will be proven wrong in my doubts though! And I hope that this might be useful to someone. All just my opinions & feel free to critique it.