Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Channels, the game listing, and final features cut for Beta

So i havent mentioned many of the new features in the last few releases for non-founders. has grown quite a bit and its a lot more solid now. With the inclusion of channels the chatting experience gets richer and yet another channel of user- developer communication is available.

The enormous amount of feedback during Alpha has made a huge impact in our current service, from quality to durability, it is looking really good.

There is more polishing left but the experience of playing is already very engaging, and there are so many novel features it takes a lot of time to discover them and use them. We are really proud of that! We are proud of looking at a new supporter poking and clicking and investigating all the things that we made.

We are still picking an graphic designer for the site, which might be delaying our Beta estimates. Quality is our top priority and although the bar on design is not really high on Go Clients, we want to make a truly exceptional work in that side. A Go server deserves to be beautiful :)

With that, the next key features to be implemented have been picked for Beta. Although there is a huge backlog of things we want to do (which expands organically all the time) there are a few things we deem important for people to feel comfortable in this very new place.

One is free-games and negotiation. This merits some explanation to those that havent experienced our game listing system.

What we thought and discovered during the early stages of design, is that one of the key features for people to play a game is to have as little friction to start a game as possible. That is, waiting and negotiation make starting games harder, which means a lesser rate of play.
Playing is what amounts to most satisfaction in a Go server so we wanted to bring the current models one step further. KGS has a game-offer model, while Asian servers like Wbaduk & Tygem rely a lot more on automatch.
What we realized in this process is that both require negotiation of game terms: a step to accept handicap(KGS) or time settings change(Asian servers).

It occurred to me that changing settings is rare and undesirable. KGS only accepts handicap negotiation and that is somewhat frowned upon both by users and i think in an unintended way, by the server (by coloring the changes). That manipulation of the rating system is unhealthy both for the system as a whole and for the users.

On The asian servers however, you rarely ever play handicap games, and time settings change is rarely successful!. They switch from standard games to blitz, and negotiation terms is awkard.

So we took that step out. One click, one game. The result is a much much faster experience. Its so easy to start a game that at the slightest wimp or desire you are already playing :).

But it had one inconvenience: without negotiation  you cant pick handicap in a free game. And that we want to do, because friends set up handicap as they wish.

So we still have to do negotiation somehow. And our new way to start rating matches is also evolving. It has some unforeseen consequences that require more thought into design. That is good and healthy: new things come from experimentation and design gets better as you use it and understand its advantages and disadvantages.

The second very important feature for beta is Sandboxes. Sandboxes are empty boards where you can control basically anything that happens. Sandboxes are a key feature for many things. For teaching, for game reviewing. We want to give an ultra accessible space for boards.
Right now you can open up a board and play around, but we are missing a few things:

a) Turning matches into sandboxes fancy-ly. It has to be fluent and comfortable, so players can easily comment on a game after finishing.
b) Branching. We have to show a variation tree so players can navigate the variations.

These 2 big features are really important to get a very well-rounded play+comment experience.

Wow thats a big post. These kind of decisions are the ones we make every week, and we have to consider what we are going to do with great detail because each decision has great consequence.

I hope you enjoy the reading :).

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