[casual_games] RE: Community Functionality

Patrick Wylie pat at bigfishgames.com
Tue Jan 31 18:16:55 EST 2006

When developing MTE we knew that some distributors would be wary of
releasing it. So, we worked hard with every distributor to help them with
their concerns. There are no hard or soft links to the BFG or any other
site. The one exception is the fan site:
http://mahjongtowers.proboards56.com/index.cgi.  We removed this site from
some portal sites since it really doesn't hurt or enhance the player
experience. We offered to remove community features altogether for a couple
portals but there was a mutual realization that if a portal sells a lesser
experience to a user for the same price that other people are getting a full
game for, then it could hurt both parties in the long run.

MTE doesn't ask for or save any user data other than what they enter for
unverified name and location. Since the game is stable, we have never had to
message users. Allowing users to message the entire community could create
problems with some portals because it could be abused by a few individuals
forcing possible removal from certain sites. This is why we only allow
private messaging. 

www.Mahjongtowerseternity.com does not have Big Fish branding on the 3rd
party sites. For a couple portals, we even offered to rebrand this site with
portal specific links and logos. 

Nobody was treated differently unless they requested it. Some portals
rejected the game because of the community content however it is still doing
well even though we aren't everywhere. 

The great part of community games is the content. Currently, there are over
90,000 user created layouts for MTE. There are at least 2000 new layouts
created every week. This has far exceeded our expectations.  Everybody who
released MTE has the layout creation and sharing feature.

For MTE, users can move their player folder with them from computer to
computer. So, people don't have to start over. We do this without email
addresses or other personal information.

I do recommend thinking carefully about how you introduce community,
especially since everybody wants to do it now and since fears of messaging
will never go away.

 	Patrick Wylie
Vice President of Studios,  www.bigfishgames.com
t: 206.213.5753  ext.147  |  c: 206.898.8819
f: 206.213.3696   	

I would be very curious to hear if there were any features in Mahjong Towers
Eternity (MTE) that were removed due to concerns from retailers (a.k.a.
portals/distributors).  I believe some of the features are disabled in
special build made for specific retailers.  I was speaking to one retailer
about features I planned to add to my next game and I mentioned one feature
would be similar to the same feature in MTE.  They told me to be sure I
player THEIR version of MTE because the features may not work the same there
as it does in the version that I played direct from Big Fish.  They said
they made Big Fish disable some feature in the version in their site.  It
downloaded their version and didn't find any differences so I don't have a
concrete example of a feature that was disabled for one retailer, but it
made me realize that it is possible. Just because XYZ.com is selling MTE
does not mean that they allowed all the MTE community features to be

One unnamed source who worked at a big .COM casual games retailer said this
about MTE.  "I can't believe XYZ.com launched MTE. Now Big Fish knows more
about the XYZ customers than XYZ does."

There is an amazing amount of paranoia about games that communicate with the
outside world.  MTE doesn't even collect any personal information. Not even
an e-mail address.  

The players LOVE community features.  High scores are nice, but there is
MUCH more that is possible that players would love to have access to if we
could just figure out how to keep the retailers happy.

In your "state of the art" list one thing you didn't mention is public
messages (or the lack of public messages.)  In a game like MTE, you can send
private message to other players, but there is no way to post a public
message for all to see.  A logical feature would be public messages to
review or comment on content created by other players.  Of course, it would
have all kinds of problems to solve with moderating the content.  But this
is one of the most basic forms of "community" communications that is
currently not present in any downloadable casual game.

Another point is that MTE player profiles are not tied to a person or e-mail
address. They are just a file on the player's hard drive. If the player
moved to a new computer she can't connect to her server based profile unless
she copies the file from her old computer.  If that file is ever lost, the
player's identity is no longer usable.  Even if the player is willing to
start from scratch with 0 experience points, they are not allowed to re-use
the name that the community knew them as because that name is already in use
but no longer accessible.  Without allowing the server based character
profile to be linked to an e-mail address to recover lost passwords, it is
very hard to make a character profile that can service the realities of
everyday computer upgrades and failures.  And it is hard to get a player to
invest time in building a profile that can't be preserved for long.

FYI: My own experience is with Ricochet Lost Worlds which has no community
features built in. But it does have a level editor you can use to make your
own content and exchange it with friends using your own communications
channels.  The game itself does not upload or download content nor does it
link to web sites with content.  But Reflexive has setup
www.RicochetLostWorlds.com to provide a place for players to share their
creations, download other player's levels, and post comments and reviews of
levels they have played. The community members also help each other out a
lot with level editor tips and tricks.  This is a very strong community
where many players "hang out" every day (many times per day). If there are
no new levels to play they just chat about other stuff.  This community has
created, tested, and rated 13,279 levels for Ricochet. And this is with no
community support in the game itself.  Nearly two years after the games
release, we still post 900 new levels per month.  Before a level is posted,
volunteers test it to screen out inappropriate contents and fix many minor
technical errors that make some levels imposable to finish in rare cases. It
is amazing how may volunteers spent lots of free time testing and fixing
other peoples levels.

Big Kahuna Reef and Big Kahuna Words have similar level editors web based
communities with player created content that are not linked to from the

Obviously it would be desirable to build these community features into the
game so that all players would have easy access to them. There are some
technical challenges in getting some of these features to work in the game
rather than just using an off the shelf forum solution on a web server. But
the bigger challenge I see is the limits from the Retailers placed on what
can go in the game.  It is hard to build a strong community when you are not
allowed to link the players profile to an e-mail address and you can't let
them post public messages to each other.  

I could add level downloading and uploading to the Ricochet game, and that
would give many more people access to the user created content, but I fear
it would completely kill the community that has grown up around this
content. Without the ability for the community to communicate with each
other it really isn't a community.  And people don't like to invest in
building a character when they aren't able to preserve it for long periods
of time.  Many of the Ricochet community members have been hanging out there
for almost 2 years and have thousands of posts.  Some of them have gone
though 2 computers in that time and/or many reinstalls of Windows. I won't
think I would be able to keep them connected to the community for this long
though all of that if I wasn't allowed to send them an e-mail.

The interesting twist is that on the Ricochet forum I posted a link to MTE
saying that if you like all the player created content for Ricochet then you
may like MTE.  Many of the regulars from the Ricochet community liked MTE,
but missed having a forum, so they setup the unofficial MTE fan site with a
forum and a way to exchange player created tile sets.
http://mahjongtowers.proboards56.com/index.cgi is created by a bunch of
Ricochet Lost Worlds community members who also liked MTE and now all new
MTE players get a private message when they start the game that links them
to this "unofficial" fan site.  So in the end, MTE does link to a web site
the allows public posting and e-mail address collection. But it is not run
by the developers of the game so I guess that makes it okay. Or maybe the
private message with the link to the forum is the thing that is disables in
the builds made for protective retailers. I wonder. 

I can't figure out what I can and can't do in my game.  

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