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Tuesday 5 February 2013

Arbitrage as a game mechanic

Reading this rather amazing story about cross-border arbitrage, I could not help but think about how it applies to game design.

Here's how the arbitrage math adds up. The ferry costs approximately $275 round trip, and gas is about $8 a gallon in Sweden, which, if we assume our car gets around 30 miles per gallon, gives us $435 in expenses. Throw in food, lodging, and other miscellaneous costs, and the total should come in around $600 or so. Remember, diapers costs more than twice as much in Lithuania as they do in Norway, so we only need to buy that much to break even.

If in the real world it's possible to entice enough entrepreneurial activity from a neighboring country to make the supermarkets of south Norway run out of diapers, imagine how powerful arbitrage opportunities are for game design. It can do everything:

  • Increase play frequency, as you need to come often to exploit recurring opportunities
  • Drive explorative gameplay, as more and more players search for new kinds of arbitrage
  • Incent specialization, because to exploit arbitrage, you need to focus on a particular activity
  • Drive expected lifetime up, as leaving the game means leaving value on the table
  • Drive lifetime value up, because in a free-to-play game, longer play time means more opportunities to buy
  • Drive virality up, because players have incentive to find both supply and demand for their particular arbitrage skill

Many of these factors apply even to a single-player game that simulates market activites. Look no further than the classics of market games, David Braben's Elite (1984) (or Star Trader, which preceded it by a cool 10 years). However, the forces really come to forefront when applied to a social game where the arbitrages don't need even need to be programmed in, as long as the design doesn't eliminate their possibility. Players will probably discover them.

That doesn't mean it's trivial to fully exploit that capability, though. For example, I don't think we ever really explored the arbitrage mechanics fully in Habbo Hotel, even though the system is full of player to player trading, rare items, well-hidden nooks and crannies, and whatnot. The most important feature missing in Habbo Hotel is rich support for specialization. RPG style games bring specialization through character classes and skills, resource management games through directing players to invest their earned resources in a particular type of activity, and so forth. The game mechanic should reward specializing, by making it possible for a player highly capable in a particular section of the gameplay to trade that capability with others for the skills or resources provided by another type of specialization. Don't reward being a generalist, or allow maximizing all stats.

Monday 23 May 2011

Nordic Game followup

A week ago Thursday, I gave a presentation in Malmö on Nordic Game Conference's second day on a couple of related topics, slides below. I spoke about the lack of truly social interaction in this generation's "social games", and reflected on what a social game where players actually play together looks like. As you might guess, Habbo has been a social playground for a long time.. 11 years, in fact. The slides themselves are, typically for me, a bit difficult to understand since they're mostly just pictures. You should've been there :)

True Social Games - NG11 - Slides

Tuesday 11 May 2010

LOGIN presentation on Habbo's Flash transition and player-to-player market

Had my presentation as one of the first sessions of this year's LOGIN conference. Darius Kazemi liveblogged the speech at his blog, and the slides are here. Best viewed together.

Monday 4 January 2010

Happy 2010 - it's review time

I was happily snowboarding and skiing (the latter for the first time in two decades) last week, so here comes the year-end review a week late. Last year, I harped on Facebook's closed nature, and over the the year they've tried to open more of the users' data over to the Internet. Still, there are no decent APIs for a user to pull out everything they've posted to Facebook to have their own copy, though. That doesn't seem to stop them from dominating the Internet for the time being, though, so good for them.

I'm trying to think of what would have surprised me over the year, but given I failed to make many accurate predictions myself, things just seemed to happen in pretty natural direction. Oracle's Sun acquisition over in April was a bit of a surprise at the time, but since then, I've grown to appreciate how it might make sense for Oracle. However, what still baffles me is that EC is going along with Monty's campaign of blocking the completion of that acquisition. Look, guys - the entire world does not need to agree on a commercial transaction in order for one to go through! MySQL is not the important thing here overall, Java is.

We managed to complete a few of major transitions for Habbo, most notably replacing the Shockwave client which was getting a bit long in the tooth with an all-new Flash-based Habbo Hotel and integrating Habbo with Facebook and other social networks. I didn't write about either of those launches here at the time, but these are pretty huge things for us because they make approaching Habbo much easier for a new user, and enable us to create all kinds of interesting features that would not have made sense previously.

So, what do I expect from 2010? Well, did the mobile Internet already happen? If not, at least it has a fighting chance this year. I'm having a hard time identifying any people close to me who're not using some Internet services on their phone by now, and some seem to be doing that almost exclusively on a phone. That must mean the rest of the world is close on their heels. As for more predictions, others have taken care of them by now.

One promise I can make is to try to do my part in making the Internet more fun and more social. At least now that even newspapers are beginning to think that asking their readers for money is not just a utopia, we can focus on the apps themselves, not whether they're ad-supportable.

Have a great year MMX!

Sunday 1 November 2009

Creating your very own Habbo site

So, I mentioned an idea of relaunching Mobiles Disco in celebration of 10 years of Habbo history. It's actually super-easy to do so. We've created a similar space in Habbo, and with the embed functionality launched last month, setting up a web site with your own rooms is no trouble at all, and the only tools required are just two browser windows while you're working on it. Here's how..

Come up with a theme. I'm just going to use the existing Old Skool rooms, but go wild with your own idea!

Create the rooms in Habbo. Again, I got mine pre-created, but since you can do pretty much anything with your own Habbo spaces, the sky's the limit to what can be done. And with Teleport furni, you can create a complete world if you want to...

Go back to the first room you want start your site from. You'll see a small window at the bottom left corner with instructions for "embed this room". Copy the code from that window, and paste it somewhere for safe-keeping for a moment.

Next, you'll set up the web site for your own Habbo to live on. I'm going to use the Google Sites creator for this particular effort, since it's pretty easy to use. You'll need a name for the site, and decide on, or make your own background theme. I went with a retro theme for this particular one..

The Site will begin with just one page on it. Edit the page, and go into "source code" mode. In Google Sites, this is the "HTML" button at the right end of the toolbar. Paste the embed code you copied from Habbo here and save the page.

Google Sites editor will turn the code into a Google Gadget. Other site creators may work slightly differently. The Gadget is easy to tweak though, so this is pretty nice. Clicking on the gadget pops up a small edit menu, where I can choose to center the gadget, and click on Properties to make it a bit larger (960x720 instead of 800x540 to use my screen better), and turn off the title.

That's it! This simple creation took 10 minutes to do, and 30 to write the instructions for. I'm sure you can do a better one, though. Tweet me about yours, and I'll come and check it out!

Habbo, soon ten years old, still the leader

According to Nic Mitham at KZero, Habbo was the fastest growing virtual world for another quarter. Thanks, Nic! One thing though:

Although it’s the Grand-Daddy of the sector, Habbo continues to show dominance in the virtual worlds sector from a user acquisition perspective

Grand-daddy? Sheesh, Habbo hasn't even got to its pre-teen years, let alone have kids! Lets talk about that another ten years later :) Seriously though, Mobiles Disco, which preceded Habbo by a few months is now ten years old. I'm thinking we should relaunch the Disco..

Wednesday 27 May 2009

What we're looking for in a data integration tool

As our data warehousing process grows and the workflows get more complex, we've revisited the question of what tools to use in this process. Out of curiosity, I had a look at basing such a process on Hadoop/Hive for scalability reasons, but the lack of mature tools and the sacrifices on efficiency that would entail meant we're better off using something else as long as a distributed processing platform is the only thing that can get the job done. I'm also curious about the transition to continuous integration, a model I noticed showing up a couple of years ago and now getting some air under its wings as CEP, IBM's Infosphere Streams, and other similar approaches. Still, I think I'll continue to rely on something else for a while and see how things shake out. Continuous integration clearly is the future, but there are many ways to get there.

So, we had a look at what's going on in the Open Source data integration field. It seems the leaders in that field are Pentaho with Kettle/Pentaho Data Integration, and Talend with Open Studio and Talend Integration Suite. Both seem pretty even in terms of features. Both companies are a bit difficult to approach as a potential customer, so I figured I should also try what would come up from the OSS approach of just posting my thoughts on the Interweb ;)

Besides the technical pilot implementations we've made to compare basic workflow of the various tools, below is a sample of the kind of questions we're considering when evaluating the suitability of the tools.

Product roadmap, release schedule and size of the development team

  • How often and of what scope of changes should we expect and prepare ourselves for platform upgrades?
  • Past track record on keeping to a regular updates schedule

Data lineage and dependency, Impact analysis

  • How to find out which tables are being used to for deriving DWH dimensions and facts?

Logging, auditing, monitoring on row and job level

  • How to monitor and archive workflows on a row level (amount of rows being inserted/updated/deleted)?
  • How to maintain, access and query a job execution history (start time/end time/return code)?

Version control

  • How to track and restore changes in jobs?

Multi-user environment

  • How can several developers work together?

Change Data Capture

  • How to assist incremental loads?

Data profiling

  • How can data source be examined?

Job recovery

  • How to recover from possible failures in jobs (such as lost database connection)?

Deploy jobs

  • How to move jobs from one repository to another (development to testing to production)?

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Mining for insight - presentation materials

Completed my MySQL Conference presentation 45 minutes ago. Seemed to go over ok, got some followup questions. Trouble is, I got hit by amazing jetlag half an hour before the session, and almost fell asleep myself during the presentation. Fortunately, survived that anyway, and as far as I could see, was the only one having problems staying awake. Below is an embedded version of the slides, which should also appear on the conference proceedings site later. Now for a beer at the expo. Will blog with more description of the stuff later (update: see this follow-up article).

Read this doc on Scribd: Mining for insight

Saturday 21 March 2009

What would you like to hear from me in MySQL Conf?

I'm going to be talking in MySQL Conf 2009 about our business intelligence and data warehousing solutions for Habbo. Since this blog is syndicated on Planet MySQL, and I presume many of the people going to the conference read it, here's a question: would you like to hear about the why's of our technology selection (eg, IT management level questions), the techniques we use for analysis (for the BI analyst or startup technologist), or about the nuts and bolts of the database implementation itself (for the DBAs in the crowd)? I'm going to be touching on all three aspects, perhaps more, but can and will focus on one of the areas in more detail.

Sunday 28 December 2008

A year-end review

2008 is nearly over, and it's time to take a look at what happened over the year, as well as to take a peek at the the coming 2009. A year ago I made a guess that social networking services would open up and start sharing their profiles – well, practically everyone but Facebook are doing some of that, and Facebook is trying to get everyone to depend on them – not that “create dependency” isn't a part of Google's and MySpace's plan, too. Unfortunately, we haven't yet found a meaningful way for Habbo to participate in this festival, due to differences in demographies, interest areas, and the priority of running a profitable business, instead. Still looking for that solution, though.

I also guessed that productivity applications would seriously move to the cloud – and was a bit too optimistic on that one. Sure, the applications are there, but I don't really see any of them having replaced the desktop-based counterparts – nor do I see that happening next year, either. People are, rightly so, focused somewhere else, and while over the long run moving off to the cloud will make sense from both productivity and cost standpoint, it's still too much of a jump, and too expensive to make.

The increasing popularity of netbooks, Internet access via 3G networks, etc, will have an impact on that, though. Perhaps we'll all move out to the net in a completely different way: not via our old productivity apps, but via entirely new class of applications. Something else than Facebook and Twitter though, I hope.

What else? MySQL was acquired by Sun, and we're all still waiting for the next step. The Register (I can't believe I keep reading it) has somehow gotten the impression that Sun has slowed MySQL down – nah, it's been this slow for at least three times that long. Fortunately, the acquisition may have been a catalyst for the MySQL developer community to start doing something else instead of waiting, and I'm really looking forward to the improvements Percona and Drizzle are making to keep MySQL competitive. As for Sun – time to stop confusing a good thing with dubious business models and bad release engineering before you lose all your customers, I'd say. At the same time, I'm also super-interested in the stuff Sun is doing on the hardware side of database storage with SSD-optimized solutions. Can't say I paid much attention to Sun there for a while, but they're making what seems like an unlikely comeback.

For Habbo, we've continued making progress on the track chosen late 2007 – revolutionary changes made incrementally. Biggest one this year, the free second currency of Pixels, was just launched a month ago. Several improvements are coming up for that, of course, and a whole lot of other stuff is in the works, or at least being thought of. We're trying not to hold anything longer than it absolutely needs to, so everything radically new continues to be launched sort-of unfinished and get improved along the way. It just ends up being so much better that way, as the feedback makes a significant contribution to the overall design.

This a weird time. The world is reeling from what indeed may be the worst economic crisis in 75 years (though I'm not well versed enough in history to be able to tell myself), and still (or because of it?), opportunities lie all around, ignored by most. It's never easy to tell which direction is most promising, but now I'm finding it incredibly hard to choose and prioritize between the possible things to focus on. Still, 2009 is definitely going to be a year to really focus on even fewer things than usual, and really kick ass on those.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I wish you a great year 2009, whatever it is you're doing.

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