An architectural approach to providing online game infrastructures
The business of the online gaming industry is a complex one, requiring the input and integration of many variables -- people, business conditions, product goals, and more -- to create, implement, and distribute a successful online game. In the fourth of five articles in this series, IBM® Senior IT Architect Veronika Megler offers some patterns-based solutions to handle community interaction needs, to address adding new content for users of the game environment, and to provide assistance when users want it.
It's been an in-depth journey getting to this point, but you're almost finished with your project -- establishing the groundwork so game providers can implement an online game environment.
In Part 1, you learned to:
- Migrate from a game focus to a business focus, using an e-commerce model to ensure success.
- Apply business patterns to the development of a game environment.
- Craft a business description of the environment you want.
- Take that description and pull out pertinent elements, and build a solution overview of the project.
- Use the overview to identify patterns you need to develop the infrastructure.
In Part 2, you learned to:
- Refocus on the game, applying a patterns-based perspective to illuminate its design.
- Outline and understand why you should choose certain patterns, based on your determinations.
- Walk through the application, applying patterns as you go.
- Examine scale requirements and determine which patterns fit those best.
- Integrate Runtime patterns into a workable solution.
- Match real-world products with the runtime functions.
- Determine when and where reuse (buying or borrowing) is appropriate.
In Part 3, you learned how to:
- Identify a new scenario -- game playing as a lifestyle -- and the resulting requirements.
- Select the requirements needed to create ancillary products for the gamer to purchase.
- Identify potential graphics issues in translating game images to physical items.
- Use the components necessary to build a barter/exchange system that works within the gaming world and between the game environment and the real world.
- Examine the realities of connectivity between the game and the multitude of devices that gamers can use.
- Understand the critical issues in connectivity regarding devices.
- Match the useful patterns to help adapt the solution to allow a larger number of potential gamers to access the most services in the environment
Find, also, the key design concepts discussed in this series in this handy chart. In this installment, you'll tackle the how-to issues that arise when gamers want to interact with other gamers in a variety of ways, when you want to introduce new content to the game, and when gamers want assistance from the environment.
Community: friends and enemies
Of course, your game has to be fun and your content fresh, but these attributes are not enough in themselves to ensure success after the first few months of the game's availability. You know from the experiences of other game providers that gamers continue to play a game -- and pay the access fees -- if a feeling of community develops among them. It is in your interest to foster this sense of community in any way you can.
You need to provide a set of information for the players to access:
- FAQs about the game
- Interviews with the authors or the first person to reach each higher level in the game
- Tutorials about how to play
- A searchable database of questions asked and answered by customer service
You also want to provide information about service availability, upcoming maintenance, new downloads, and so on. Given the quantity of information you want to provide, you understand the value of using portal technology.
While this material can clearly be part of creating a community, some industry watchers believe the most effective communities occur when gamers are given the basic tools to create their own communities.
How can you help make this happen? Take a look at the following scenario.
A number of self-regulating communities, each associated with a specific in-game guild, have spontaneously formed around your game. One of the most popular was started by Ken. It is a Star Trek-themed guild that holds its chat sessions and updates its news board in Klingon. To make it a little more accessible to guild members, they use an English-alphabet interpretation of Klingon rather than the Klingon character set -- except in special cases. You are considering adding text-to-speech capabilities, to include a Klingon reader.
Ken and other members of this guild get an extra kick out of playing tournaments against an opposing Star Wars-themed guild. For the quorums of each guild to compete against each other, they regularly schedule times using the calendaring functions you've made available.
To make the game more accessible to new players and build a community around the more casual, less hard-core players, you've created a Newbies' Guild, which features a little extra hand-holding, more basic information, and more structured quests. One way you provide the hand-holding is by creating videos for newbies that show some of the tricks of the game.
The Newbies' Guild is where Barbie and her friends hang out. People can graduate from this guild and join the other guilds, giving the more committed players an in-game career path. You provide some information that allows players to choose their new guild intelligently, such as average play-time by guild members, average score, seniority of the characters, and so on. This way, the game can allow self-selecting communities of every level of commitment, from casual gamer to the hard-core aficionado.
Oh, and whenever Barbie's playing, she tries to locate Ken in the game. She gets extra enjoyment from appearing where he is and teasing or interfering with his character, much to his frustration.
She's also recently started flirting with another gamer, Blaine. Now, if only she can track him down in the game!
The new, community-oriented requirements
You've just identified a number of collaboration- and community-oriented requirements, including:
- The need for self-regulating communities in the form of guilds (These communities have access to a number of functions, such as Web pages personalized for their guild, calendars that they maintain, and chat capabilities. In this case, you also have chat in Klingon.)
- A focus on purpose-built content (The Newbies' Guild, run as another community, represents this requirement.)
- Personalization, by recognizing a guild-member relationship and providing the member with preferred, guild-related content
- Streaming video for education
- Presence (While Barbie can find Ken -- and Blaine -- by scouting successive locations in the game, she might want the ability to communicate with other players inside the game to see if they are present or to potentially find them.)
- The need to provide some level of matchmaking (The matchmaking capability uses statistics gathered about in-game play.)
Look more closely at this diverse set of community-related activities. Many of them are standard portal-based functions you've already provided -- personalization of content, content aggregation, and so on.