24 Apr

Creative Destruction or Just Plain Havock?

People interested in game design, product management, the (un)intended effects of incentives, internet app scalability, co-design between companies and customers, and online social behavior, could do a lot worse than to research the effects of Blizzard’s latest "Honor" patch to World of Warcraft. You can read threads such as this one, or better, go directly experience the wild wild west (and 10-second lag anytime a battle turns massive) on PVP (Player vs. Player) servers. In a nutshell, Blizzard changed the rules more than three months after launch to incentivize player killing without the disincentives described in the manual that comes with the game. Almost as soon as that happened, I think it’s fair to say (as I’ve experienced it myself) that all hell broke loose!
I believe Blizzard has studied their user base demographics and reached the conclusion they could milk the product even more by rewarding hardcore players and immature people who enjoy aggravating others, than by providing a competitive but fair environment to all, including casual gamers. This is intriguing because the game was definitely successful at reaching out beyond the hardcore. I’d love to see the stats on customer support requests and subscription cancels. After you’ve spend literally days building up a character in a game with great underlying characteristics, it’s hard to suddenly let go, but people could put their accounts on hold to wait for a better day.
It’s also interesting to look at how people have adapted and will continue to adapt their in-game attitude (for those who will stick to it). I’m sure there’s already more defensive grouping going on among people who want to complete quests without looking like gank bait. Instances (tougher environments where small groups of players are isolated from the rest of the world and which require better coordinated tactical skills) are probably becoming even more popular.

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19 Apr

Between Fluid and Fixed: Elastic Design

Roger Johansson takes a step further the debate that wouldn’t die between proponents of fluid and fixed web designs. His in-between approach is demonstrated by his own recent "elastic" redesign. Resize the font on his site to see it in action. Look at the masthead and main column width — nice! Elastic is liquid done properly to make sure things don’t expand into silliness in higher resolutions, while acknowledging that the user is in control.
Nice to have for content sites, but even nicer for web apps. The severely constrained layout of Movable Type’s backend for instance makes me cringe and would no doubt benefit from this.
05/30/05 update: see what Stopdesign and Happy Cog have done for Capgemini.

14 Apr

Web 2.0 with Just a bit of WoW Perspective

Ah, those pesky PC games (PC here includes Macs), fiercely resisting the ever-renewed dogma announcing the rise of browser-based apps at the expense of the desktop. World of Warcraft, arguably the most successful internet application worldwide (1.5M+ paying subscribers with peak concurrency above 500K players), more or less maxes out CPU utilization on a 2GHz box.
Moreover, it dwarves the money made by about any web app you hear so much buzz about these days. The application has its quirks, the API is poorly documented (though that didn’t prevent the emergence of quite a few add-ons) some servers are hardly playable because of serious lag issues, but the game is addictive. It goes so much against the whole web 2.0/mobile blah blah, the software even comes in a physical box!
Web professionals easily impressed by developers making progress within the severe constraints of the browser should remember what really makes regular people go… WoW.
11/03/05 update: On a scale from zero to five.

04 Apr

Why Isn’t the Obvious Making It Faster Into Development Platforms?

I’m in one of those periods when I pretend to be a web developer. Low productivity but great fun, and maybe with another few years I might become half good at it. Anyway I want to let my users choose how to sort some lists on one of my sites, so I’m passing along a variable from my ASP.NET program to a SQL stored procedure, expecting what looks like no-brainer syntax to fly. Well, it doesn’t. It’s reassuring that I’m not the only one to expect my intuitive way of doing things to work, only to run into a wall. SQL 2005 apparently won’t solve that specific issue (at least they say better native support for paging is coming), though it will be possible to write stored procedures in .Net languages.
I’m not sure whether that’s a restriction of how dynamic SQL is implemented by Microsoft in Transact-SQL or if all engines behave in the same way (I don’t know anything about PL/SQL syntax for instance), but it’s puzzling how often things that are supposed to make your life easier fail somewhere along the way ot at least only partly deliver.
This is a minor if not trivial example, but the more generic take-away from this post is that features that might look very straightforward to implement when you don’t know anything about programming, can actually require more work when you get to it. Even though tools and languages to create web sites are way better than just 5 years ago, it’s still my conviction that web project and product managers need to have a thick technical veneer to succeed, or they won’t effectively work with developers and designers.