Friday, February 12, 2010

Step 3: Profit!

Flowplay got a great write-up in TechFlash

Step 2 is 'make a kick-ass virtual world' (Step 1 is just to impress potential investors)

To see ourWorld grow and succeed over the last couple of years has been and remains truly exciting. Big thanks to the players who have shown extraordinary support for ourWorld. Without you guys, it's all for nothin'.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Build a Combat Robot in one Day

If you didn't know, I build combat robots (or if you're picky about termonology, R/C fighting machines) and it's a lot of fun. It's also easier than most people think. Normally I have an idea for a machine and build it a hour or two at time over the course of a couple of weeks. Well, with a new baby in the house and Jeni with a new job, time's been against me. Now the event is Saturday and I only had 2/3 of a robot (I registered 3). I needed at least one more.

I have a lot of vacation saved up, so I decided to take the day off and re-build my son's robot, "Vision #9". Today was my only day to work on it, so I had to finish. And I did!

Vision #9 (front) and Mister Twister (back). Both 3 pound Beetleweights

My Build Photo Album

See these and lots more robots fight at the Northwest Model Hobby Expo!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pulling out the Rug

It's always easier to add features to a game than to take them away. A lot of games will put off taking features away until a major event, like a new edition or version, both from a practical standpoint (paper games aren't good at mid-stream changes) as well as a PR standpoint. Players hate losing things they are used to. If you wait for a big event, you add some sugar to the medicine by introducing an assortment of new features that are replacing those that are being lost.

We don't have that luxury with ourWorld, because our game gets incrementally updated every two weeks. Even a huge update is a smallish change in the overall scheme of things. This last week, we implemented a change in ourWorld that prevents players from buying gifts for other players unless they first make an actual purchase. The problem was that each coupon code for Gems (ourWorld's for-profit currency) we issued worked once for each account. This allowed one code to provide a small number of Gems to a large number of players. Free samples, more or less. The problem was that players were creating large numbers of 'fake' accounts, loading them up with free Gems from the codes, and bleeding those Gems into their main accounts. The problem reached epidemic status a couple of weeks ago when we accidentally released Gem codes worth more than the usual 10 and the number of fake accounts skyrocketed, throwing off all our statistical data for the week, and reducing the value of a single Gem to a fraction of its normal worth.

We had to make a change, and our choices were to reign in Gem Codes or reign in gifting. We think there's a lot of value in releasing a modest number of Gems each week for everyone, so we addressed gifting. The problem isn't gifting, the problem is free Gems combined with gifting. The solution turned out to be simple to implement. Players who have collected all of their Gems for free can't give gifts. Once a player contributes to the site monetarily (and there's a lot of ways to do this) they can gift normally after that, including with their free Gems.

We aren't really taking away a feature, really we're taking a way a loophole that has been badly exploited. Of course, many players don't feel that way. The ourWorld forum has erupted with complaints and polls and "how can we get ourWorld to change this back" threads. I totally understand. Players used to be able to get something for nothing, and now they can't. Even so, I've got to take a hard line with this. I know people are mad, but I've been to this rodeo before, many times, and the furor won't last. The best interests of the site and my company are my primary goal, and I know this is the correct call. It was true when the first Magic cards were banned (not a lot of fun, that) and when any game I've ever worked on was canceled due to lagging sales (BattleTech TCG, Harry Potter TCG, Clout: Fantasy...and more.) Sometimes the rug simply has to go, and there's nothing to it but to do it.

If anyone really wants to know, the gift limitation was my idea. Direct your hate mail thusly.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

High Maintenance Customers

Some customers require a disproportionate amount of attention from the support team. They write or call nearly everyday, often with some sort of problem. Usually the problems are legitimate, if not a bit on the nit-picky side. The question isn't what to do with that one customer. She's a great customer, so you help her as best you can, every time. The question is whether everyone is having these same problems, and only this one great customer cares enough to tell you about them.

The question stresses me out.

It has been my experience that a small percentage of players have far more problems than the average player. I'm not sure exactly why this is, exactly. For computer games like ourWorld, it's most likely an unusual system set-up or poor internet connection, but there's no way to know for sure. Some people are a lot more picky than others as well. It's not surprising that some of the bigger spenders are also some of the most vocal about problems (I would be too!) I'm also hopeful that I'm correct that it's only a small percentage, because if lots of people are having these problems, and simply not letting us know, that's bad news.

Now that we've added a forum for ourWorld, it's easier than ever for players to share their experiences with us, and so far it's been good. We've certainly learned things we didn't know from the extra input, but nothing earth shatteringly wrong has been discovered (that we didn't already know.)

Maybe some people do have more problems than others, and that's just how it is.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show

This was AMAZING last year. Check out their video (which I haven't watched with sound, so who knows what they are saying.)

For a single entry fee of $20/day there are hundreds of pinball machines and video games set to free play.




Just got this Facebook notification:

"Warning! Pet Society Is About To Explode! It's so packed with Valentine's Day stuff it could blow at any minute!"

Me no likey.


Are you a Hunter or a Farmer?

This is my interpretation of a recent Seth Godin blog post as it relates to online social gaming.

The difference between hunters and farmers in the gaming public has been apparent for years now, but only recently, with the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook, have games for farmers taken off as successful. I don't mean just social games like Farmville and Farmtown, though they certainly fit into the category. I mean any game where the barriers are time, patience, and social skill rather than direct obstacles to be defeated as rapidly as possible.

ourWorld is primarily a farmer game, populated with an assortment of hunter games. Most of the 100 or so flash games in the ourWorld arcade are hunter type games. The disconnect between the games and many of the players who just aren't all that into them has been obvious to us for a long time. Changes like allowing basic chatting and other activities to replace gaming as the means to level up have addressed this disconnect, and things seem to be fairly well balanced now, though I believe the disconnect still lingers.

I believe the contrasts between hunter and farmer games are already known, but are being labeled differently and perhaps incorrectly.

Hunter - Farmer
Male - Female
Traditional - Social

Are all three of these pairings the same? In a very, very, broad sense, I think it's fair to say that more hunters are male and they tend to play more traditional games. Conversely, more farmers are female and tend to play more social games. As soon as you start to get more specific, however, things get less clear. What exactly is the difference between a traditional game versus a social game? The two get more intertwined every day. Sure, a lot of girls and women play social games, but lots and lots of guys do as well. Mafia Wars is a farmer game, but not targeted specifically at women (as far as I can tell.) Same for Farmtown.

I think it's a good idea for a game designer to have a clear idea of who he or she is making their game for, but finding categories that are stronger than just "boys vs girls" or "traditional vs social" will make those ideas more successful.