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Address community requirements, game upgrades, and account maintenance, Part 4
By Veronika Megler - 2004-09-09 Page:  1 2 3 4

Serving the community

Several products available today allow portal members to administer, manage, and update a set of pages. (For example, IBM Lotus® QuickPlace® that works with IBM WebSphere® Portal server, provides such a capability.)

Since the Klingon guild is maintaining its own set of pages in an English alphabet, they can provide the content in Klingon without any technical concerns on your part. You can allow the guild to provide links between their own pages with Klingon labels; they can choose to add images that contain special embedded characters, without requiring additional support from you. You can use available Klingon pronunciation guides to create the Klingon text-to-speech reader, if you choose to do so.

In some cases, today's portals also provide chat capabilities [in the case of WebSphere Portal server, through Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing (Sametime®) portlets]. Once you provide access to chat, noting whether someone is present is a small step since many chat products already provide online awareness capability.

If you create this chat infrastructure external to the game, you could potentially use the same infrastructure to support chat inside the game. For example, Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing (Sametime) provides a toolkit that can be used from inside application code to provide chat functions. If these functions are being called from your game code, you can manage the representation of the chat window and even filter or modify the chat traffic. In theory, this will let you also use the chat infrastructure from a nontraditional device, such as a game console.

Can Barbie locate Ken in the game? You could certainly provide an indicator of whether or not someone on a gamer's buddy list is currently playing the game. It's technically possible to add a game location indicator to someone's presence indication in the chat program; however, this is something that gamers might not want to divulge (like Ken, after the first time Barbie disrupted him). Consider adding an indicator that gives a rough idea of what sector in the overall game map the buddies are in. This at least helps Barbie identify in which direction to head, while not making it too easy to find Ken.

Many groupware products provide group calendaring capabilities you want to use and allow each guild to maintain their own calendar. Many groupware products (Lotus Notes®, for example) can be integrated with portals. So, providing this capability with off-the-shelf components is a straightforward task.

Matchmaking is a little more difficult. This is a common function in the game industry, and it is possible to purchase off-the-shelf applications (generally, collections of APIs) that provide this functionality. To collect and process game statistics that inform the matchmaking component, you'll add a data-analysis package to your game zone.

Figure 1. Adding community functions to the game infrastructure
Adding community functions to the game infrastructure

Game evolution

Now add another twist to upgrade the game and let gamers access new content. Here your'e moving into a new set of functions: functions that exist outside the basic applications, but are important to maintaining and managing your business.

A scenario

Ken has heard a patch is available for the game. He accesses your Web site and searches for the upgrade. When he finds it, he downloads and installs it.

He decides, in a moment of goodwill, to upgrade the game on Barbie's computer, too. He notices that it's been a long time since she upgraded her version of the game. That's OK, though, because the download site automatically detects the current version of the game and download all required fixes.

On her cell phone/hybrid device, Barbie receives a notification that a new version is available, and she clicks Accept to install it. She's excited because she's heard that this version contains a completely new set of customizations she can play with.

The new upgrade requirements

Here is the list of requirements just added in this scenario:

  • Download a patch.
  • Install the patch.
  • Recognize the version of the gamer's game and install all patches to take it to the latest version.
  • Provide an indicator that a new version is available.
  • Provide automatic install when the user accepts.

As games get larger and more complex, the size of the patch files also increases. For example, Anarchy Online had a 75MB patch on day one; for someone with a PC on a slow dial-up connection, downloading a patch this size becomes an impossible challenge. Even for someone on a broadband connection, it's a huge annoyance.

Since many of the changes provided in patch files are required to improve game play, the patch file is something that most gamers are likely to download. The bandwidth required by thousands (or, hopefully, tens of thousands) of gamers downloading the file in a fairly short period of time is quite large.

View Address community requirements, game upgrades, and account maintenance, Part 4 Discussion

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First published by IBM developerWorks

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