Online Matters Transcending the single Player Experience.

Category: Data

GameSpy Technology’s User-Generated Content System Updated with Moderation, Data Views

Just in time for the holidays, GameSpy Technology has slipped a little extra Sake in your stocking.

The latest version of our Sake user-generated content & cloud data storage service, available now, enables game creators to moderate content that player communities create and share. Now, in addition to providing enterprise level content storage and fulfillment, Sake also provides you – and your players – with tools to flag potentially inappropriate content, review flagged content, and take action on it.

This new feature set expands Sake’s built-in content rating feature, which enables your community members to quickly chart the quality of UGC they encounter in your game. Additionally, it also includes some proactive moderation measures – like automatic virus scanning and an ever-evolving server-side “bad word” filter – that help stop potentially harmful content at the front gate. You can even choose to have ALL content flagged for review before ever sharing it online, giving you complete control as you curate your game’s UGC.

And, because we’re in a giving mood, we’ve also released two more features that developers have frequently requested:

  • Data Views: By far one of our most frequently requested features, we’re happy to provide developers with instant visibility into the data that they store in the Sake database. No more custom queries – just log into the Sake admin site and point-and-click your way to glory.
  • Import / Export: You can now manipulate your data tables more readily through Sake’s new import / export utility. Using the Sake admin site, you can now export tables into your editing program of choice, make desired changes, and upload back into Sake using the import feature.

Both Data Views and Import / Export are available immediately for all developers using Sake – and for all games, past, present, and future that use the service.

Categories: Community, Data / Tags: , ,

Don’t Kill Level Design, Set It Free

As passionate gamers, we at GameSpy Tech (and I as a product manager) spend time each week thinking about which dynamics and technologies enable great gaming experiences, which don’t, and which just plain suck.

Recently, a friend forwarded me a new blog post from the smart Danc of Spry Fox titled, Steambirds: Survival: Goodbye Handcrafted Levels, in which he argues for killing the idea of levels and handcrafted-level design in favor of additional game modes which yield deeper game play.

(Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you go to read it and come back.)

But, to disagree with part of Danc’s post, I think it will be difficult (and unnecessary for a reason I’ll get to) to completely drop handcrafted-content in games.

Danc provides the following depiction of “deep play”, which he says results from pursuing new game modes instead of static levels.

Danc's Finding Deep Play Diagram

I agree with Danc that this kind of expanded gameplay usually results from adding more play dynamics to a game.

For example, if a character in your game needs to reach a platform and your game affords only stackable boxes, all solutions will involve stacking the boxes (what Danc calls ‘shallow play’).

However, if you add ropes, pulleys, fasteners, and a bit of physics to your game, you now have a large number of potential solutions to reach a platform.

But here’s the tricky part about expanding a game this way: as you add more game dynamics that interact with and potentially build on one another in unpredictable ways, you are more at risk of accidentally introducing a “min-max” into your game, particularly if your game dynamics are already complex.

A “min-max” is a hidden solution or strategy that is either trivial or applicable to too wide an array of challenges in your game. It’s an overpowered gun in a shooter or the “Stasis” deck in old school Magic: The Gathering. It’s an unforeseen overpowered or near optimal strategy that erodes fun because it short-circuits the interesting tradeoffs or challenges inherent in your gameplay.

There are steps one can take against min-maxes, such as more QA and patching, but these can be development-cost-intensive and can’t guarantee all exploits will be resolved.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add interesting dynamics to games, but perhaps they shouldn’t be considered an exclusive replacement for handcrafted content-generation.

Instead, one of the goals of game dynamics, in my opinion, is what Jenova Chen calls “Flow” in his excellent Flow in Games paper from 2006:

Jenova Chen's Flow in Games

“Flow” happens when a game gives you new abilities or dynamics as you progress AND takes into account both your increasing skill and the interactions of the new dynamics, YET still manages to keep the challenge level in that sweet spot between boredom from overmastering or overpowering the game and frustration from overaggressive difficulty increase.

So, instead of eliminating handcrafted game-content and replacing it with more and more gameplay dynamics, I think a contrarian strategy to achieve deep player engagement is to build a fun but minmax-free set of gameplay dynamics and then open up the content generation to the player community.

Players relish opportunities for creative expression, to tell their own stories, and to add on to worlds they love.

And players who master a game are ideally-suited to produce the levels or scenarios that will provide both challenge and enjoyment for players like themselves.

One of my fondest childhood game memories is Lode Runner on C64, since it was the only game I knew of as a kid that came with a level editor. Once my friends and I had mastered Lode Runner, we invested endless fun hours building, sharing (on floppy disk), and challenging one another: first with more difficult levels than those provided with the game, then with themed levels that tested the limits of what could be built, and finally with “trick” levels, which looked possible, but weren’t!

Opening up creative content building and sharing to a player-community makes the enjoyment and content produced for a game potentially infinite.

And, since you’re reading the GameSpy Technology blog, I should probably point out that user-generated content is a feature you can readily add to most any game project using our cloud data storage offering, Sake, and our soon-to-be-released user-generated-content features, which add content ratings, flagging, moderation, virus-scanning, and a browser-based admin panel for moderators to monitor and manage all your game’s UGC.

Categories: Community, Data

GDC Online: Vault Videos of GameSpy Tech Tutorial Day Now Streaming

Looking for a recap of GameSpy Technology’s full-day “Building Iconic Online games” tutorial from this past October’s Game Developers Conference Online? Head over to the GDC Vault, where streaming video from the conference’s keynotes, tutorials and panels is now available for free!

For added convenience, we’ve linked to the 5 specific presentations from our tutorial day below. Collect them all!

Our goal for the tutorial day was to evangelize to attendees the importance of online in creating enduringly successful games (no matter how big, no matter what platform) — and then provide a bunch of examples of angles that developers could take to build the sorts of online features that help ensure that success. We hope the presentations delivered on that promise. Regardless, we met a truly amazing array of aspiring, start up and established developers throughout the day, and we returned to GameSpy Tech HQ energized and inspired by the conversations we shared.

Please take a look at the videos and send us feedback. We’d like to return next year, and we want to make sure we come back bigger and better — your thoughts are essnetial to making that happen.

Categories: Community, Data, Other, Trade Shows / Tags: , ,

The Brutal, Bloody Reality of Read Dead Redemption

14 million hours played. Two million dead cows. 15 million human executions. And that was just in the first two weeks. Red Dead Redemption players — we knew you were savages, we just didn’t know the magnitude.

The numbers are in, and our hats are off to Rockstar Games, once again. Hot on the tail on sales numbers that showed RDR topping the charts for the month of May, GameSpy Technology is proud to show off some even more compelling data — gameplay numbers from the two weeks of play (covering thousands of data points across millions of players) following the game’s worldwide release.

Working with data tracked by our ATLAS stats service for the game and for the Rockstar Social Club, infographic specialists Column Five Media created an amazing visualization that show what players have been up to in the game’s brutal, bloody, insanely fun world. And, to make things a little more interesting, all stats are compared to some real world corollaries, providing some context for the data.

For the most up-to-date stats on Red Dead Redemption gameplay, visit the Rockstar Social Club – the incredible Rockstar community site built in partnership with GameSpy Technology.

Ready to power your game with amazing data? Contact us to get started today!

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