It seems Sins of a Solar Empire has a big player base, but a small online multiplayer base.
A bit of love to the online multiplayer features over the next patches can bring in more players online.
My suggestions are below. first, the low-hanging fruits:
Add multiplayer ads in the loading screens.
"Do you know can play online against human opponents in free-for-al, team play and comp stomp matches? It is more challenging, more fun and you make friends."
Add 2 or 3 messages about multiplayer features so that they pop up more often.
Add multiplayers remarks to AI taunts in game.
"Getting bored fighting against me? Try playing online against NI (Natural Intelligence)."
"You may be winning this time, but try against a carbon-based lifeform online."
Plus a few others. If you add at least 10 of those, players will get entertained just to find all messages, and will probably try playing online at least once.
Add epitaphs (A.I. last words) to single-player games Victory screen.
Many just to warn/threat the player that the fight is not over, others admitting defeat, And others telling him to go multiplayer. Vanilla Sins will also tell the players about the entrentchment expansion (lure them to buy the expansion). It's OK to make money, especially with a good game like this.
Those were the easy ones. Now, the online experience could be more refined. I would add the following to the interface:
A helper text box at the lower part of the screen.
Whenever the player hovers at one of the main interface buttons, a small descriptive text shows up to tell him what to do, or what he will find in that option. It would guide him in making the online multiplayer login and character name.
Achievements for online multiplayer
Having a virtual trophy room is always good to rub the player's ego.
Now, forgive me, but Sins is the first online player game I've played. I have read about people asking for a ladder, I assume it's a ranking system for online players.
Having the option to see and post messages from several chat rooms at once.
This can be implemented in a single chat screen, or with several chat screens. If it is to be done in the same screen, which I believe requires less changes, a line with a different color and background (similar to the channelk changing message) will tell that the next message(s) are from chat room xxx. As long as all following message come from chat room xxx, the message will not show up again. If someone post on chat room YYY and I am listening to it, then the message shows up sying that the next message is from chat room YYY, then post the message. And so on.
For that to work, the channels list would have to be always visible. I would split the player list in 2 and have the channels at the top. The channel list would have two toggle buttons to the left of each channel. The first one (ear icon) would be to listen to that channel, the second (tongue icon) would be to enable posted messages to be sent to that channel.
The first channel would be a special pseudo-channel called 'all channels'. clicking on the 'listen' and 'talk' buttons would enable listening and well, talking to all channels.
The player will inevitably want to talk to a single channel, or to a single player in one channel. To do that, you can (besides using command line options) do the following:
Clicking on the text body of the channel will select it for talking. the channel will be highlited on the list and messages sent will be posted only to that channel. This wont undo the listen/talk selection though, clicking again on the channel will revert to the original channel set. The player can also jump right to another channel whisper, several times, and the chat settings won't be lost. whisper mode will be disabled only when the player clicks on the current whisper channel.
The same process can be done to select and send messages privately on the player list.
Integrate with irc.stardock.com
The in-game players should be able to chat with people offline, or which just want to talk a bit but have not time for a game, and don't want to fire up the game just to chat with ppl. Having the option of logging in to the lobby with IRC clients would be cool.
These changes I believe would improve the online experience to a higher level of enjoyability.