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The First Annual Game Design Think Tank
Project Horseshoe 2006
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: Online People's Revolutionary Army of Horseshoe

Participants: A.K.A. "OPRAH"

Dr. Cat, Dragon’s Eye Productions

Raph Koster, Areae
Chris Early, Microsoft Michael Steele, Emergent Game Technologies
Patricia Pizer, Buena Vista Games Dallas Dickinson, Caliber Games
Mike Sellers, Online Alchemy Steve Meretzky, MuddyC Games
  Facilitator: Ron Kuper, Turbine

Problem Statement:

Most, if not all, PC, console and handheld games will incorporate some level of online interactivity or support in the very near future, from simple leader boards to full-fledged online multiplayer interaction. The current games that exist in the online space (ranging from casual web games to MMOs) are deficient in Design, Technology, Business Models, Social Management and Customer Service. We will discuss why this is true and attempt to find some short-term and long-term action items to address these shortcomings.

Our games often block rather than facilitate Social interaction. Few games offer simple, but robust tools for social interaction, reputation rating, larger-than-guild-sized social groups and other systems that would allow us to keep our players engaged and connected to the gameplay experience. Because of this, we have not found solid, tested ways of transitioning players to more complex and sticky online experiences.

We are not, but should be, a Customer-Centric Business. We often break promises, give poor response and service to legitimate questions and issues. We take our customer service and community management services far less seriously than more typical businesses (e-tailers, for example), when we should be doing the opposite.

We are immature in our Design practices. Our games cover a very narrow selection of genres and an even narrower play-style demographic. We have immature tools for fostering the creation of quality User-Created Content. Finally, we have yet to put into practice the theory of encouraging, rather than forcing multiplayer interaction.

Our Technology improvements are not readily shared with or available to other developers. To some degree, this is because we are trying to gain or maintain competitive advantages. While that is a reasonable reason not to share, there are a group of companies who are attempting to provide middleware for all areas of online development, and developers need to be educated in how to utilize these technologies to save time and make better games.

Our Business practices are undeveloped/immature. We have very few standards in our business practices, and have not yet figured out how to deal with issues such as governmental regulations, international law, obscenity issues, digital rights management and virtual property.

A Brief Statement of the Group’s Solutions to Those Problems:

Generally, our problems all fall into the very broad category of Institutionalized Hubris and Ignorance. We do not share knowledge, and we are not very open to knowledge that others try to share. Culturally, we all need to open ourselves up to actually learning from the mistakes of others. Practically, however, we need to begin by solidifying, clarifying and then sharing our hard-learned lessons.

We can accomplish this by Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is, and by actually committing to best practices, even when they run contrary to the existing paradigms of development and management of online games – this includes adopting and using new technologies as well as taking the Service and Community parts of what we do more seriously. We can also Share the Love, and create/maintain a central repository for Online Game Development. Finally, we can Evangelize by founding, forming and leading panels and discussion groups at upcoming game conferences and industry events.

The specific action items listed below fit loosely into one of those three general solutions.

Action Items:

Task Owner(s) Due Date
Create Online Game Development Best Practices Wiki:
Group 11/7/06
Support a Playerep-style service Group Ongoing
Integrate with and Welcome Academics Who Study Online Games Mike Steele Ongoing
Create “Persistent Game World” Panel for next Casual Games Conference Chris Early TBD
Create “Persistent Game World” Panel for next Casual Games Summit Steve Meretzky TBD
Revise and Circulate “Declaring the Rights of Players” Raph Koster TBD
Create a Community Relations talk at GDC Dr. Cat TBD
Work with Bob Moore on Avatar Tech Mike Sellers TBD

Expanded Problem Statement and Solution Description:

  • Our games often block rather than facilitate Social interaction.
    • Persistent identity/reputation 2.0
      • Support Playerep and look to integrate with them
      • Or Build the better version
      • Gamertag is coming to PC from Xbox
      • Online Alchemy is releasing a reputation API
      • Disseminate Chris Allen’s analysis of best practices in reputation systems across eBay, etc.
    • Next Generation of Social groups (beyond the party and the guild)
      • Define the needs and research what has been done:
        • Dynamic groups
        • Multiple, non-exclusive groups
        • Etc.
      • Ekistics research for virtual worlds
      • Create a Wiki to research this issue
      • Push those needs via a Whitepaper
    • How to transition players to more complex online experiences
      • Identify the gateway features
      • Identify the barriers to entry
      • Codify, research and define the steps of transition
        • Chat
        • Buddy Lists
        • Guilds/Groups
        • Monetization
        • Etc.
      • Create a roadmap for transitioning players up the complexity chart
  • We are not, but should be, a Customer-Centric, Service Business.
    • The industry attitude is still “We’re better than the customer” (Contempt)
    • Poor service to our customers
      • Encourage developers to use existing knowledge and technology
      • Hire people who are professionals in the customer service industry
      • Convince management that it is not a cost center
      • Change the culture from “They'll take it, because they have nowhere else to go.”
      • This is not a product; this is a service. This is a fundamental change that must be made at every level.
      • Create an Online Games Better Business Bureau.
      • Build ‘respect’ into the customer-bill-of-rights doc; build the larger “Ethos” for Online Industry
      • Create/circulate the Best Practices Social Contract for online games.
      • Those who have a bad CS experience report it to 11 people; those who have a good CS experience report it to only 3.
    • State of community relations (staffing and tools)
      • Primitive care/community tools need improvement
      • Corporate educate about cost/benefit of CC/CRM
      • Hiring people from outside the game industry (cruise-ship lines, party planners), etc.
      • Catalogue ‘what worked’ (and maybe ‘why’) and publish this
    • We are unprepared for cross-platform communities and gameplay
      • (This fractures communities)
      • There are business obstacles, and territorial limitations
      • Define some base-level functionality (data & features) that is non-competitive in nature
      • (IM is an example of interop)
  • We are immature in our Design practices.
    • Narrow genre coverage by online games
    • Enabling while simultaneously mediating UCC
      • Support participation by other non-content-producers
        • Cathedral & Bazaar
      • We don’t offer sufficiently advanced tools for creating the content
        • Define tools early in development with end-user needs in mind
      • Common agreement that UCC (if done right) is a great thing
      • Reputation and ratings solve many (but not all) of the issues
        • Enforcement & consequences
      • Some parts of the Web is more advanced in this area –
        • ad hoc but best practices could be borrowed
      • Despite other issues, Second Life is breaking ground here
    • Internationalization problems; gap between what works in the east and the west
      • Reference works like “Geography of Thought” on the Wiki
    • Encouraging, but not forcing MP interaction
      • Best-Practices in Design should fix this.
      • An example would be:
        • Use real-world systems that draws player into ‘comfortable’ interactions
          • Make social-rewards at least as compelling as gamesystem rewards
          • Encouraging or Implementing ‘weak tie’ (SNA) systems to encourage emergence
          • Reference Parc paper on “3rd spaces”
  • Technology to support online games is not mature
    • Improvements are not readily shared with or available to other developers.)
      • Solution: License things like the Emergent technologies (a silver sponsor)
    • Escrow/trading tech
      • Microtransactions between players,
      • Microtransactions between player and publisher
    • High development/deployment/operation costs
    • Need technologies/tools to build online games more inexpensively/quickly
    • Maturing Procedural and Dynamic Systems such as AI
      • Need to view these techs and tools as force multipliers for creativity
      • Raph’s examples about procedural world-generation times
      • Raph’s postmortems on UO’s systems are topical and shareable
      • Pascal Mueller papers, etc. on such topics. (in the SigGraph book)
  • Our Business practices are undeveloped/immature
    • Upcoming mindshare gap for players leaving WoW
      • Global trend on increasing vertical;
      • New players don’t seem to be just a ‘fad’… but there are exceptions that are worrisome
      • Trend is towards casual games to fill voids - 100MM casual game players
    • Our competition is TV, telecoms, etc. fighting for player mindshare
      • The best interaction with the big-money media companies starts with “pay to the order of…”
    • UCC copyright/legal issues have not caught up (see above);
      • UCC obscenity-issues (support the Legitimacy Group);
      • DRM (support whomever’s problem this is)
      • Problems complying with governmental bodies
      • Build bridges to legal/academia/gov’t.
    • Too few sources of funding for online game development
      • Encourage use of Tools to lower cost/risk, and therefore encourage investment+funding
      • Reputation system for rating VCs
    • Few companies (none?) do good online game marketing and PR
      • The landscape for what ‘marketing’ means is changing… game industry is still driven by retail-channel marketing
      • This core competency exists – matchmaking outside our industry is the solution
        • Case-Study some of the wins in this space to illustrate ways this works
        • Club Penguin, NeoPets, Amazon, Habbo etc.

Other reference material: not open yet, but soon.

section 4

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select a section:
1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Online People's Revolutionary Army of Horseshoe
5. Building Innovative Games That Sell
6. The Legitimacy of Games
7. The Creation of Radically New Game Experiences
8. Schedule & Sponsors