Customer Engagement, Gamification & Social Games – 2

In my last blog I referred to  the term “Gamification” as use of game design techniques in  non-game applications.This gamification exploits a humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.

But let’s get our attention back to actual gaming applications like “Mafia wars” and to my very own “Seduction“.. had to mention it ..can’t forget my baby ;).

In terms of genre,social media games are not much different from other entertainment mediums like movies  ( “Reservoir Dogs” or “When Harry Met Sally” ).The difference is that most of the social media games focus on a very limited set of genre and lack creativity in publishing story lines that cater to adults.

Most of them seem to be either fighting with aliens or plowing neighbors patch of fallow land ( “Farmville” ).I have nothing against these genres.They are very successful and have been designed to engage gamer’s attention for a long time.

But the market segment served by these genres is limited.Social media gaming industry is still new and hence we are witnessing this explosive growth.There is a very interesting statistics that I found here:

These numbers are impressive but there is still a huge untapped casual gaming market.A well chosen genre with excellent delivery of gaming experience  can attract lots of new gamers from under served market segments.

Important point to note in above statistics is that “more women play social network games” compared to men.Traditionally in console gaming industry,men dominated the market and still do,but more women play social media games.

Seduction” is a humble effort to fix this anomaly 😉

Team Building,Cloud Computing and Startups

Since 2004,two critical factors that  immensely helped projects and sustained my start-up ventures, were; a great team and best of breed enabling technologies.I had this great fortune to work with a superb, dedicated, informally bonded talent pool of young technology professionals spanning three continents .This  network of young and talented team is always hungry to learn new skills, technologies, develop new systems ,solve real world problems and find pride in their work.

A combination of breakthrough technologies facilitate the collaboration between these enterprising groups of people and substantially reduce start-up costs.

Vishy..and his team of ninjas..three cheers to you guys!!

Over the years, there are three groups of technologies that were the backbone of operations and critical to our success –

a) Cloud computing

b) Online collaboration tools and source code management

c) Open source software frameworks

My views about cloud computing and the help I got from cloud computing, as an entrepreneur, in bootstrapping phase of  CherryBelly™ are succinctly captured in this article.

Here’s the excerpt:

With all the gloomy economic headlines in recent months, one can be forgiven for thinking we’re in a hopeless economic morass. But if you look beneath the surface of today’s technology shifts, you may also see potential for one of the biggest economic booms in a generation. How so?

As with all other economic booms, this boom will arise from the spunk and innovation of an emerging class of entrepreneurs, many being young and just out of (or still in) college, and others being veterans of workforce experiences relatively void of opportunities. In this next boom, another thing will be different as well – today’s entrepreneurs have an incredible resource available at their fingertips at minimal cost – cloud computing.

Unemployment is high right now, and there are many, many, many professionals who see the startup route as a more sustainable alternative to seeking full-time employment. There is now an incredible abundance of resources available on demand, for little upfront cost, to businesses.

We were looking for hosting solutions that were cheap, had capacity to scale with varying load (elasticity), and still be reliable. Vishy quickly came up with this idea of renting Joyent® cloud server instances.

Joyent offered a great promotional offer that was not hard on our pockets and was tailored for social media gaming titles.We have been using GoToMeeting® (from Citrix) as well as Skype for last several years. So those were the obvious choices for the team.

The capability to share desktops has given the team, dispersed in three continents,a powerful medium to share and collaborate like never before. I strongly believe that these tools give a better collaborative environment than two people sitting next to each other in a room,sharing the same computer.

Next in line were the open source frameworks. Open source community has been helping developers like us for decades. These communities have served a role of incubators for start-ups and innovations lead by breakthrough technologies and minimal start-up costs.Even Fortune 500 companies readily adopt the well tested frameworks following all proven architectural design patterns. These patterns make the software re-usable, reduce re-work, limit the number of inadvertent bugs, reducing development costs and faster time to market.

Spring, Hibernate, Drools, Codeigniter were selected for their maturity and prior extensive experience of the team in delivering integrated solution with these technologies. Subversion was mandatory to make sure all the artifacts were properly versioned, and have control over simultaneous changes in same set of artifacts.

Next .. analytics..

Game Heuristics – Part 1

Let’s talk about ‘Heuristics‘ and start with sharing wikipedia thoughts about this word.

Copied and pasted verbatim from here:

In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules, hard-coded by evolutionary processes or learned, which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. These rules work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic errors or cognitive biases.

In philosophy, especially in Continental European philosophy, the adjective “heuristic” (or the designation “heuristic device”) is used when an entity X exists to enable understanding of, or knowledge concerning, some other entity Y. A good example is a model which, as it is never identical with what it models, is a heuristic device to enable understanding of what it models. Stories, metaphors, etc., can also be termed heuristic in that sense. A classic example is the notion of utopia as described in Plato’s best-known work, The Republic. This means that the “ideal city” as depicted in The Republic is not given as something to be pursued, or to present an orientation-point for development; rather, it shows how things would have to be connected, and how one thing would lead to another (often with highly problematic results), if one would opt for certain principles and carry them through rigorously.

But here we are more concerned about heuristics as it relates to human-computer interaction in the context of  browser based online game.

A proper Software Requirements Specification (SRS) models the heuristics of how a user will process the information being rendered on-screen. An SRS is ideally shared with the end-user well before the actual Software Design Specification (SDS) is written and the application is developed, so users’ feedback about their experience can be used to adapt the design of the application. This saves much time in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Unless heuristics are adequately considered, the project will likely suffer many implementation problems and setbacks.

We had one very vague  objective when we first started thinking about the design of the game.It was to make sure that we don’t follow the herd but make it as unique as possible.

It was easier said than done.Like any other tech startup,we had no SRS in place .We also faced the challenge of not knowing anything about our target audience,who may or may not have interest in online gaming.After days of painstaking efforts (thanks to Felice),we narrowed down our target audience to a subset of players that were active on other facebook games.Player population was segmented on the basis of some identifiable attributes.There were some segments in this population that were already super active on other facebook games.Some segments were underserved or had very little choices in existing set of games that matched their interests. Genre of the game was selected based on target segment and it was to be our USP(unique selling proposition).


Genesis of ‘SEDUCTION’ … a Facebook game

These blog posts will follow the timeline of SEDUCTION, our first Facebook game title, from concept to launch. In this long series I will share my views ,experiences & challenges about design of the game,characterization,stories,look and feel,heuristics,technology,team building,graphics,game construction, quality testing ,in-game player analytics, monetization ,final launch and marketing.

Work on SEDUCTION started in March of 2010. I had never played a Facebook game nor had any prior experience in social media space. I had spent previous six years as IT architect/Project manager/Business development manager for another start-up,a dual shore technology consulting firm that I founded in September 2004.All my previous experience was in managing technology projects for telecom,insurance & retail banking domains but had no clue about social media gaming.But I responded to Mickey’s call and we ended up discussing his idea of “SEDUCTION” sipping latte at Starbucks.Needless to say,I was floored by Mickey’s narration of his idea.Somehow it seemed strikingly similar to a rule based enterprise application that I worked on few years ago. By the end of the meeting, I was excited about this concept.It was a unique concept,different from anything I had ever attempted.

It became evident early on that the real value of our venture lies not just in one game, genre, title or a nice set of graphics but a reusable rule based gaming framework. We needed a framework that could enable us weave multiple virtual worlds of interesting never ending story lines, capture and retain player’s interest with a family of games of different genres. This framework had to designed to provide flexibility ,re-usability and follow all well proven design patterns.The end goal was to support the launch of a series of innovative games quickly and efficiently. SEDUCTION seemed to be the best candidate in that series of games from our gaming studio “CherryBelly”.

Next.. Game heuristics