GuildPortal Dev Blog

Updates from Aaron Lewis, GuildPortal Code Monkey

Posted 10/27/2012 4:38 PM by Aaron Lewis. 1196471 reads. Share:

10/27 Update - Activity Wall

The Activity Wall, a new widget, goes live today! It's like the walls you'll find commonly on social networking sites. It's what the old Status Updates widget was kind of trying to do, only it does it a lot better. It could also be looked at as a replacement for shout boxes altogether, since it supports media.

In order for people to post to it, they'll need to be granted higher than public/applicant access to your site. Here are some of the features:

Posting

The familiar WYSIWYG editor is used, only in a slimmer version. Tools available for now are: toggle full-screen edit mode, spell check, some formatting, insert link, insert image, and insert video (from either YouTube or Vimeo). You may find the area too small to work with, especially if you're inserting big images or videos, so make use of that full-screen toggle on the far left!

Adding Video

Adding video from YouTube or Vimeo is easy. Just go to the web page on YouTube or Vimeo where the video is shown, copy the address, click the blue Play icon to the far right in the wall editor, and paste the URL. Hit your tab key and you'll be presented with a preview of what it'll look like in your post, along with some options.

Most of them can be left alone. The one you want to pay attention to is "Play the video automatically on load." You'll probably want to un-check that box, else risk the wrath of guildies opening the page with the wall on it, getting hit with all kinds of videos starting to play at the same time!

The Next Thing

Sample wall postOnce you've added your text/video/images, click the post button and boom -- there you have it. Emoticons are automatically parsed based on defaults and/or any custom emoticons the guild uses. Clicking on the name of the poster displays the standard drop-down menu for doing things like viewing their profile, visiting their blog, chatting with them if they are online, and all that good stuff.

Images

Know how sometimes, you can put an image in a post or a news item and if it's too big, it'll stretch out the page, wrecking the design? Well, I think I've got that figured out now (and with all the layout possibilities there are due to customization, and the fact that IE ignores max-width unless everything's set a particular way at the parent level, it took a while -- that, and I'm dumb as a rock)! Anyway, when you post an image to the wall, it'll now do its best to fit inside the available space, without stretching things out. Notice: if your browser is way, way old, it'll probably be icky like before. So with a large image (the one shown is actually around 1200 pixels wide, in a widget that's about 700 pixels width), here's what a well-behaving browser will show (minus the purple arrows I thought were neat while putting the screens together in Fireworks):

But hey! What if the image is gigantic because there's that much going on? Easy to do with something like an in-game screenshot. And you might want to see it full size. No problem! You can click any images on the wall and they'll open up all sexy like in a gallery-type scroll view dyno-resizing nifty thingy. Stuff. Whatever you wanna call it. Hey, I'm not a writer, k? Anyway, it's got arrows (way better-looking than my purple ones up there) that you can use to move between other images on the wall.

The Morning After (after you post, I mean)

There are a few things at the bottom of each post. People can click on Comments to show comments or add their own. The date and time of the post has been sacrificed in a pagan ritual, making way for the more friendly "how long ago" display. There are tools to delete the post if you're a Super Admin or the original author, and if you're the author you can edit the post, too.

The comments are pretty simple. Not much to explain there. I thought about spinning it so they sounded all complicated and neat and shiny, but... Yeah. No. Oh, and both of those posts are from me. I talk to myself while testing, and for a reason I cannot fathom, I always revert to a despicable sub-set of the English language.

Future Enhancements

Instead of cramming the thing with everything I could think of, taking ideas from some of the major social sites out there, I decided to hold back and push it as it is now. I'm counting on feedback to direct the decision making when it comes to further enhancements for the wall. After all, there are things I found that I like which a lot of you might really not, and there were some features the big boys are sporting now that I really find... icky (who says "icky?" I do!).

So let me know what you would like to see done moving forward. Maybe WYSIWYG editing of comments instead of the simple type-and-hit-enter behavior it has now? Or automatically-entered posts by the site when people apply, add a shout, post something in the forums, add a news item, create a new raid, add an image to the gallery (all linked automatically to the source item)? Anyway, let me know!

Chat Updates

When someone requests a one-on-one chat session, you will now hear a... beeping thingy. Useful if you have more than one browser window open, are looking at a different screen, or have your head spun around facing behind you, like that girl from the Exorcist. I do that sometimes. Don't judge me!

Typical GP Chat

Also, on-demand playable sound effects have been fixed in guild chat. Type /sounds for a clickable list of the currently available ones. In addition, lots of little bugs and stuff were fixed.

Other Stuff

  • Many widgets have had their displays cleaned up a little. There will be more of this going forward, as we move to a more universally clean (and still customizable) theme format. This is primarily being done to enable us (and you) to create much higher quality themes than is now possible. We will be making use of HTML5, CSS3, and responsive design principles.
  • Quirky behaviors in some of the style editors have been un-quirkified.
  • Your hamster has been watching you with malice as you sleep.
  • The ability to add an image to a post via link instead of the image manager has been restored.
  • Many other bug fixes.

Posted 10/10/2012 9:59 AM by Aaron Lewis. 531726 reads. Share:

Many enhancements have been incrementally rolled out since the last release announcement. I'll summarize what's been going on, minus a lot of the minor bug fixes:
  • New Feature Promotion Letters. Whenever a member is promoted to a higher level, you can replace the default system-sent mail with your own custom one, and you can have a unique letter for every level. For example, you can have a different letter sent when someone is promoted to member versus when someone is promoted to officer or council. Get started with promotion letters in Control Panel General Promotion letters or Guild Bar Admin Member Management Promotion Letters.
  • Enhancement New World of Warcraft roster with in-game WoW Guild Achievements. Configuration-free, fast sorting and filtering, more frequently updated, real thumbnails of your characters.. Stay tuned, more new stuff for WoW is on the way.
  • Enhancement WYSIWYG editor file selection/uploading. The editor tool for selecting an image has been revamped to function much like the file manager in the Control Panel. However, you now have additional buttons: one to add media (sound, video, etc) and another to add Flash content. All three tools allow for direct upload while editing your content.
  • New Feature User uploads from WYSIWYG Editor. Previously, there was no way for members to upload images or any other media for use in their forum posts. Now, they have access to the three tools mentioned above, but all of their uploads are stored in a special sub-directory off the guild root with the format /MemberUploads/memberid. That is their root directory, and they can create sub-directories, drag-and-drop copy files, and directly edit images (add text, skew, rotate, crop, etc). They cannot, however, see the guild root folder or navigate to the root of other guild member folders.
  • Enhancement Page Footer. The old page footer had a pretty low limit on the number of characters it allowed. This limitation has been eased up, and you may now also specify a background gradient fade and the top edge color and size for the footer area. If you want a solid color instead of a gradient, just select the same color for both the start and end colors. Control Panel Style Tools Page Footer or Guild Bar Admin Site Customization Footer.
  • Css For those who use custom CSS, the class for the new footer area is gp5-footer.
  • Enhancement 8 new GuildWars 2 themes have been added.
  • Maint Some of you may have noticed the new error reporting form you are taken to when you encounter a run-time error. Many of you who have, have filled out the "what were you doing when the error happened" field, and I just wanted to drop a quick "thank ya" for doing so. The details you provide, along with the actual error details, are both put together to automatically create a new support ticket, which is assigned directly to -- waaaaaaaait for it -- development. Anyway, it makes getting to the cause of a problem much easier and has resulted in many hotfixes over the past month! Oh, and to the individual who typed in "I was sleeping".. lol
Finally, a bunch of bugs were fixed.

Posted 9/4/2012 12:02 PM by Aaron Lewis. 236767 reads. Share:

Hey all! Please, feel free to rate the dev blog service updates (using the star rating thing), and leave comments! Let me know what you liked about any update, what you didn't like, what you'd like to see more of, and all that good stuff. So far, most of our feedback comes from admins who post in the Help Community, and while they provide many of the feature suggestions that are pushed out every week, they represent .78% of all active guild leaders -- and .13% of all recently active members -- on GuildPortal.

Now, I'd love to get more guild leaders (and even their members -- we know they have ideas, too) into the Help Community, but if you don't want to join that, feel free to leave any comments on any release here on the blog at the bottom of any post, and I will read them

I know a lot of people might not expect much along the lines of responsiveness from SaaS (software as a service) providers when it comes to listening to their ideas. Even fewer people expect to actually see their feature requests implemented any time in the foreseeable future. It's totally understandable, and I empathize.

For example, I've had ideas for things I'd love to see added to Facebook, Hotmail, GitHub, and many other SaaS providers. But I didn't send them in because either 1) they didn't even bother putting up a form or forum where I could submit my request, or 2) I had absolutely zero faith that any human being that was capable of making the decision to implement my idea would ever actually see it.

Now, the guild leaders who know this isn't the case with GuildPortal are the ones who frequent the Help Community. They make feature requests all the time. Here is how we break down feature requests, and how long it usually takes before each category of request is live on production (keep in mind that providing support for existing functionality takes up the bulk of our time, and that maintenance, upgrades, tuning, and refactoring must also be constantly done to keep GuildPortal speedy and clean):

 Who Benefits from Feature Complexity ETA (Cycles) 
        
 Many Guild Leaders Low  1-2
  Medium  2-4 
  High 4-8+ 
     
 A Few Guild Leaders Low  2-4 
  Medium 4+
  High 8+
      
 Many Guild Leaders, Many Guild Members Low 
  Medium  1-4 
  High  4+ 
     
 Many Guild Members Low  1-2 
  Medium  2-4 
  High 4-8+ 
     
 Few Guild Members Low 1-4
  Medium 4+
  High 8+ 

Behind the scenes, our "cycles" are milestones. Every week has its own release milestone. But sometimes single features -- or a combination of related features -- will have their own milestone and branch of the code, so that it can be worked on without its changes (especially if there are a lot of core, architectural changes) interfering with the regular support/feature update milestone code bases. This is a fairly recent addition to our toolset, and it makes the entire development and release process -- including adding new features -- much easier to manage.

Every feature request that is made is reviewed by both Sandy and I, whether it comes in via a post on the Help Community, in a Support Ticket, or a comment on the Dev Blog. It is then entered into our issue tracking system, which is a ticket system developed in-house that integrated with GitHub, where bugs, feature requests, and a lot of other things are stored in a way that allows us to link fixes and enhancements to the actual lines of code that were affected.

Feature requests with no ETA are internally assigned to a milestone specifically for those types of feature requests, and it is regularly reviewed to see if anything in there can be squeezed into the next actual release milestone. Not all feature requests are implemented. For each of them, we need to balance the benefit versus the impact to GuildPortal overall. Also, we have to consider the amount of time each request would take to develop.

But no feature request is ever deleted or ignored.So please, for the many guild leaders out there who haven't asked for anything because you don't think anybody's listening, please, talk to us. We're not Microsoft -- we're entirely family-run by a married couple with a dog who forces us to go outside every couple hours to throw the ball for her. We do listen. Most of the features you see us adding to the service, week after week, are the direct result of a guild leader asking for it either on the Help Community forums or by sending in a support ticket. I'd like to see that extended to commenting on development blog service updates, as well.

Posted 8/6/2012 1:14 PM by Aaron Lewis. 21471 reads. Share:

  • Some refactoring of required Javascript files was done in order to reduce the number of files that browsers were having to download, which should decrease overall page load times.
  • Admins now have the ability to customize the appearance of the global guild bar. They also have the ability to disable it altogether, for all visitors to their site. We highly recommend you do not do this however, as many future features may only be available to those who have it enabled.
  • The window that comes up when you click a member link has been cleaned up, and an error on one of that tabs has been fixed.
  • In your Profile settings, there is now a privacy option that will prevent you from appearing on anybody's global guild bar when you are online.
  • The notification of member login window has been made less of a punk in FireFox.
  • The global guild bar now has a default faded appearance, so you can see the style of the guild site behind it, and it fades in to full view when a member hovers their mouse over it.
  • A bug affecting searching of guilds from the public-side pages has been fixed.

Posted 5/22/2012 10:56 PM by Aaron Lewis. 216906 reads. Share:

Note: If you do not want to read through this whole post and just want to get to your mobile site, the address is your.guild.domain/m. For example, if your sub-domain is icanhaz and your primary domain is guildportal.com, your mobile site would be at icanhaz.guildportal.com/m
Phone showing GuildPortal Mobile I've been mostly working on support tickets and this nebulous thing I'm calling GP-5 (shhh, Sandy would be furious if she found out). Also, Sandy and I are really going to put our heads together to come up with something for the progression widget. However, with all this stuff going on, we managed to get something pretty neat out the door for those of you who use a phone to check up on your guild forums and web mail...

Now, a lot of people already know that GuildPortal can notify you of things such as when new web mail arrives, an event/raid is starting soon, whether someone replied to a topic that you are subscribed to, when your (or others, if you're an events admin) event/raid status changes are sent to your SMS-capable phone. Also, admins can be notified the instant a new applicant signs up to the site.

For those who didn't know about this feature, open Profile from any guild page, then click Text Messaging to set up your cell phone provider, number, whether notifications are enabled, and which types of notifications you want to receive.

Okay, this next part is a relatively big deal for us. If you go to your site's domain (like http://admins.guildportal.com) and add /m after it, you will be on a site that has some functionality of your full site, but has the added benefit of being much faster to load. So, if you're a member of the Admin Help Community, head on over to http://admins.guildportal.com/m right now on your phone and check it out. If not, try your own guild's domain.

The mobile site was written on jQuery Mobile, and so it should support the following devices with no problems (although not all the bells and whistles may be there on older devices -- like mine. Iphone 1. I swear it's gas-powered.):

The so-called "A-grade" browsers. Full enhanced experience with Ajax-based animated page transitions.
  • Apple iOS 3.2-5.0 - Tested on the original iPad (4.3 / 5.0), iPad 2 (4.3), original iPhone (3.1), iPhone 3 (3.2), 3GS (4.3), 4 (4.3 / 5.0), and 4S (5.0)
  • Android 2.1-2.3 – Tested on the HTC Incredible (2.2), original Droid (2.2), HTC Aria (2.1), Google Nexus S (2.3). Functional on 1.5 & 1.6 but performance may be sluggish, tested on Google G1 (1.5)
  • Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)  – Tested on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola XOOM
  • Android 4.0 (ICS)  – Tested on a Galaxy Nexus S. Note: transition performance can be poor on upgradeddevices
  • Windows Phone 7-7.5 – Tested on the HTC Surround (7.0) HTC Trophy (7.5), LG-E900 (7.5), Nokia Lumia 800
  • Blackberry 6.0 – Tested on the Torch 9800 and Style 9670
  • Blackberry 7 – Tested on BlackBerry® Torch 9810
  • Blackberry Playbook (1.0-2.0) – Tested on PlayBook
  • Palm WebOS (1.4-2.0) – Tested on the Palm Pixi (1.4), Pre (1.4), Pre 2 (2.0)
  • Palm WebOS 3.0 – Tested on HP TouchPad
  • Firebox Mobile (10 Beta) – Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Chrome for Android (Beta) – Tested on Android 4.0 device
  • Skyfire 4.1 - Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Opera Mobile 11.5: Tested on Android 2.3
  • Meego 1.2 – Tested on Nokia 950 and N9
  • Samsung bada 2.0 – Tested on a Samsung Wave 3, Dolphin browser
  • UC Browser – Tested on Android 2.3 device
  • Kindle 3 and Fire - Tested on the built-in WebKit browser for each
  • Nook Color 1.4.1 – Tested on original Nook Color, not Nook Tablet
  • Chrome Desktop 11-17 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Safari Desktop 4-5 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Firefox Desktop 4-9 – Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
  • Internet Explorer 7-9 – Tested on Windows XP, Vista and 7
  • Opera Desktop 10-11 - Tested on OS X 10.7 and Windows 7
"B-grade" browsers  Ehanced experience except without Ajax navigation features.
  • Blackberry 5.0: Tested on the Storm 2 9550, Bold 9770
  • Opera Mini (5.0-6.5) - Tested on iOS 3.2/4.3 and Android 2.3
  • Nokia Symbian^3 - Tested on Nokia N8 (Symbian^3), C7 (Symbian^3), also works on N97 (Symbian^1)
C-Grade Basic non-enhanced HTML experience that is still functional
  • Blackberry 4.x - Tested on the Curve 8330
  • Windows Mobile - Tested on the HTC Leo (WinMo 5.2)
  • All older smartphone platforms and featurephones – Any device that doesn’t support media queries will receive the basic, C grade experience
There is a feedback button there in your member screen. Please feel free to use it. We would love to hear back from you on this. We will no doubt be adding more features (right now, only mail and forums really work completely, oh and the welcome message, underneath the user's start page for the guild).

For more information on graded mobile browser support based upon JQuery Mobile (which we are using for the /m functionality of your sites) library, click here.

This is not the regular update. There's just been enough testing that I'm comfy letting you all know about it. :)

Posted 7/15/2011 11:12 AM by Aaron Lewis. 12227 reads. Share:

We've begun using new file storage with this update. All of your existing files are still available at their old location, but newly uploaded files will have URLs that look like /GuildFiles/[your guild ID]/[file name] instead of http://www.axiomfiles.com/[your guild id]/filename. This removes the need for your browser to determine a different host's IP (axiomfiles.com) when loading each image. While you can leave your old files where they are, you could benefit more from this change by copying them back down to your hard drive and re-uploading them. Once you have all references pointing to the old image updated, delete it to free up more of your available file space (also keeps things tidy). To help differentiate between which files you have on the old system and which you have on the new one, I've added a URL column to the Control Panel > File Manager file listing.

For yet more performance gains, we are now using CDNs (content delivery networks) from both Google and Yahoo to serve up the more common Javascript libraries we use. What makes this so great is that those services will automatically route your request for the file(s) to your nearest data center, making it very, very fast. It also takes the burden off GuildPortal, no longer needing to serve up these very common Javascript libraries, instead giving it more resources to dedicate to just your content.

Many support tickets were addressed (and small features tweaked) in this update, as well:
  • The signature generator now saves your preferences. You will no longer need to start from the beginning when using the tool.
  • The signature generator now provides links that you can use in your signatures on other forums/web sites!
  • Associates and higher are now able to upload images directly when using the WYSIWYG editor to post, and then insert that image into the post immediately after.
  • Event/Raid templates now correctly import any custom category they were saved with.
  • Clicking on an entry in the "Recent Blogs" widget will now only open the blog in a new window, instead of opening it in both your current window and a new window.
  • When editing your profile, you will no longer default to the "Casablanca" time zone. Unless that's your time zone, of course.
  • The World of Warcraft server status widget is now back and functioning correctly, now calling an API provided by Blizzard instead of parsing the old server status page.
  • In the Funds widget, guild transactions may now be entered using more than one type of currency at a time.
  • A guild in an alliance that has had a forum shared with them by another guild is now able to set one of their forums as the parent forum of the shared forum.

Posted 7/22/2010 2:29 PM by Aaron Lewis. 10052 reads. Share:

We've been pretty busy over the past week! Here's a list of some of the things that have either already gone live or are going live with today's code push:
  • 28 new themes have been added!
  • A problem with the signature generator import galleries redirecting to the guild home page has been fixed, and the signature generator has had some neat new features added to it.
  • Importing a theme was automatically centering the banner, even if that was not how the theme was configured. This has been fixed.
  • Auto-forum posting of applications, where an admin had previously (at any point) checked the box to disable it, remained disabled and the box wouldn't show as checked when they went back, so they were unable to re-enable it. Those who were affected will need to go back into the Application Questions area of the control panel and re-enable it by un-checking the box.
  • Integrated rosters for DAOC have been updated to work with the new XML structure that Mythic is returning, and they have been updated to have all the features of the integrated rosters of newer games (client-side filtering, sorting, and an updated appearance).
  • When applying a theme, users have the option to send a quick "thank you" note to the author of the theme. If you like their work, let them know!
  • When sharing a theme, custom HTML for the left, right and center widgets will now also be exported as part of the theme, and applied to any site that imports the theme. Previously these elements were not applied, so only simpler themes could be shared to their full effect.
  • Custom CSS additions are also now copied when sharing a theme. Keep in mind these are just for the "CSS Additions" part of your total custom CSS configuration. Total CSS replacements are not copied. CSS Additions only add on to the existing output, they do not completely replace it.
  • If you have supplied custom images for your tabs, you now have the option to have them display even when using the "Side Nav" type of navigation. Click the "Display Tab Images Inside Side Nav" checkbox in the Control Panel, under Style Tools > Navigation Style (make sure you have Side Nav selected from the drop-down list at the top). This will display the images vertically (top to bottom). Full default/current/hover functionality is supported.
  • Many, many new sets of forum icons are available. You can get to them via Control Panel > Style Tools > Forum Icons. Select from the "Available Sets" drop-down box and click Preview to check them out!
As always, thanks for choosing GuildPortal!

Posted 1/27/2010 12:52 PM by Aaron Lewis. 9487 reads. Share:

There's a new Silverlight-based gallery for your guild images available.  You can get to it from any gallery widget on your sites by clicking Open Gallery.  This opens the existing gallery, but in the top, right-hand corner is a new link to open the Silverlight version.  If you don't have the Silverlight plug-in, you'll be prompted to install it.

It's in "beta" for the moment.  One notable feature is missing -- the ability to comment on images.  We wanted to get it out there in order to get some feedback on how people feel about taking a more RIA approach when it comes to future features and enhancements. While RIA (rich internet applications) can be, at the lowest level, simply Ajax-based (as GuildPortal is now), the frontier "Web 3.0" world looks to be populated with technologies like Silverlight and Adobe AIR/Flex.

If this is received well, we can put more emphasis on developing these kinds of richer (even occasionally disconnected!) features for your guild sites, moving from web sites to richer, more fully-featured guild management applications with more responsive and attractive interfaces.  Of course, our stamp on the world of guild hosting has always been customizability, and that would move to the new platform, too!

It's important to emphasize that we've no plans to abandon the web-page side of things.  All of this would be complimentary and fully integrated.  Nor is building bigger and better always the way to go.  For example, we also have plans for a fully-featured mobile client (based on standards, not for any specific device).

So if  you've got a moment, pay a visit to the GuildPortal Admin Community and let us know what you think.

Posted 1/7/2010 3:48 PM by Aaron Lewis. 101647 reads. Share:

The World of Warcraft Add-On (GPHelper) has had a couple of changes made: 1) the add-on itself has been marked for the latest version of WoW, and 2) guild bank item imports now work. 

To get the latest version, open your Control Panel, click WoW Integration, and then click the download link.  Instructions for installation are also on that page, in case you haven't done it before.  Instructions are also given on how to use the add-on in-game, and finally, on how to upload the data the add-on collects to your site.

Now, as functionality such as blogging, walls, mail and one-on-one chat have been added to GuildPortal, you've probably noticed the icons stacking up next to user names on your sites.  Though they can be disabled, once you do, the functionality that goes along with them is lost to you.

We're almost ready to push a change in how that works.  Basically, user names will appear on the site as simple links, with no icons next to them (except in the forums).  When clicked, a window will open up where you will be able to view the person's most recent blog entries, memberships and titles, and characters.  It's there where you will have the ability to send them web-based mail, visit their blog/wall, or open up a one-on-one chat.

This will significantly de-clutter you guild pages, without sacrificing features.  Expect that sometime next week, and as always, thank you for choosing GuildPortal!

Posted 9/15/2008 10:13 AM by Aaron Lewis. 11625 reads. Share:

Dear Game Company,

Thanks for the great game!  As you know from your numbers, people are, in great numbers, choosing interactive, virtual worlds like yours over static forms of entertainment like television.  As you also know, as the customer's computing power increases, so will your budgets for creating even more compelling, interactive, immersive and content-rich worlds to pull them (and their friends!) even more deeply in.

This is a good thing.  As is plastered all over research sites like this one (though it's not the only one; a person only need Google to find a plethora of research on the topic), the brain may actually be more active while sleeping than while watching TV.

However, there's a problem.  Your game runs on an operating system (or systems, huzzah Blizzard!) that is also used to download keyloggers, which, in turn, can send a player's login name and password to a database on the other side of the globe, which can then be used to login to the game in order to steal the player's virtual currency, items, and above all else -- the time spent working for it.

Now, keyloggers such as these do not appear on CNN or MSNBC.  They show up in "comments" areas of sites that provide anybody the ability to post their opinion on a quest, item, or something else pertaining to your game. 

Some sites take action to prevent this kind of thing (like GP does, after having been burned once a couple years ago), but as everybody knows, your general channels in-game are filled with people asking questions and being answered with "look it up at ..." followed by the latest info site.  These sites are popping up all the time. 

Some of them, if you take a look at the juggernaut of RMT (real money transactions for virtual items/characters/etc., which is against the EULA in the vast majority of games), IGE and their Zam/Wowhead/who-knows-who-else networks, are merely different skins wrapped around the same core engine. 

Some however, are start-up sites with little to no experience in the security realm, using open-source or other software with frequently exploited vulnerabilities, unable to protect their users.

Which of those two is a bigger threat is up for debate.  Some of them might even be in place solely to gather game logins and passwords, even though the percentage of people using the same login and password on a web site that they do to login to their game may be quite small (as was the case for a specific forum site that was just for players on a single server in a single game).

By the way: if you're one of the game companies that has your users login to your official web site using the same credentials they use to login to the game with, you might be contributing to the problem.  Just an FYI!

Now, let's consider possible reasons why people go to these 3rd-party database sites:

  • The official game web site you provide does not have the data they're looking for.
  • The official game web site is too hard to use.
  • The official game web site is too slow.

Any one -- or a combination of -- the above would be enough to provide a niche market for these sites to exist. 

Remedies include:

Providing data on items, quests, etc.  Open it up!  Either you will provide the data, or someone else will.  If you don't want to write an interface for all this, that's fine; provide it via an API and license sites you approve to use it.  Require that they only send a certain number of requests to your servers over a given time period, so that you don't get hammered, and the licensed sites will then only need to build a responsible request/caching system.  The licensing is there to ensure that sites you don't approve of, such as RMT sites, don't have the data.

The licensing is particularly important.  Demand full disclosure of company ownership, including parent companies, and parents of parent companies, until you know who's really running things, at the highest level, for your licensees.

The other two bullet points are purely design/scalability issues, to be addressed by your own web team.  The best search sites are Google-like in simplicity and minimal overhead.  AJAX is great, but if 1MB of slow javascript is in the header of every page, maybe a different approach is in order.

If the data comes from you, then third-party sites can only provide value-added features or integration with what they provide, that you do not.  Using GuildPortal as an example, the biggest overhead outside of the hardware and people required to make it run, is the amount of support required for a relatively complex web application with lots of customizable options.  Add on top of that the expectation that more features be added and the interfaces both for the administrators (guild/clan leaders) and members be updated to Web #.# standards as they emerge, and the additional support incurred by doing that, and you have something that goes well beyond the scope of what a gaming company's web presence department would want to -- or should have to -- support.  After all, do you make a game and have a web site that provides info/support for it, or are you in the business of making games and also in the business of hosting web sites?

Our members are constantly asking us to integrate with 3rd-party sites to provide game-specific data.  Usually, we can't, because we have a policy against any kind of integration or partnership with sites that are owned by or even advertise for (even through multiple levels of parent companies) RMT companies, since the very existence of their business is unethical -- they sell products and services that require the customer to break an agreement they've made, every time they login to the game.

So then, providing the data you have openly (with the only option being users needing to go elsewhere for it), with an API for sites you license (can we be one, pretty please?) to provide value-added content/functionality (again, using GP as an example, having an active guild web site that people can visit outside of the game does keep them engaged in the people they play with and the game they play), is the best option.

Mythic did it for Dark Age of Camelot, Blizzard did it for World of Warcraft, and Mythic is at it again with Warhammer Online.

Maybe they're on to something!

Posted 4/25/2008 12:06 PM by Aaron Lewis. 77753 reads. Share:

It was only 10 months ago that we moved to the .NET 2.0 framework, and this week we're going to be moving up to .NET 3.5.  Aside from productivity improvements that come along with the new features of the latest IDE (Visual Studio 2008), there are a number of enhancements to the underlying framework, as well. AJAX built-in, LINQ, intellisense for JavaScript, etc.  The LINQ and intellisense parts will be helpful in more quickly getting features and bug fixes out onto the production environment.

AJAX and some of the new controls, combined with our recent upgrade of the Q1 2008 Prometheus suite of controls for .NET 3.5, will make it possible to bring more "compelling" user experiences to both the Control Panel (IMO fairly dated and more difficult to use as the features kept getting piled on) and individual content types on the guild pages.  I put the word compelling in quotes because, while marketing people always use that term when describing the user interfaces you'll be able to whip up with their latest tool, I never quite understood its placement.  What, after all, does a treeview compel a person to do?  That is, other than click the nodes on it. 

Beats me!

Anyway, this transition should be a bit smoother than the last one, since we'll be pulling the web servers out of the load balancer one at a time, upgrading to the 3.5 framework, and then pushing the migrated code to the servers.  Once there, we'll do full regression testing on each server to make sure everything's working as expected.  After that, we put the server back into the load balance mix and move to the next.

I think we'll be moving away from the "Service News" type of thing and focus more on keeping the new Change Log current.  Writing news about enhancements to the site is normally done after the fact, and some things that have been done are inevitably left out.  By going the route of the change log, we'll be keeping you up to date on changes as, or before, they're being worked on.  There might be some kind of summarized grouping by time, or by release version, but really, what does the version number mean to anybody anyway?  For us, it's helpful with our source control system, but for end-users, it's odd.  It's like in WoW, you'll hear "oh, that's been that way since v2.4.1041blahblahblah."  What's wrong with, "oh, that's been that way since December?"

I guess the geeks (not excluding myself -- my son will testify to my lack of "coolness") are still allowed to name things!

Speaking of coolness, I'm writing this blog entry using Windows Live Writer.  I was working on the API's to make it possible for people to post to their GuildPortal blogs with richer tools like WLW and others when I realized how long it's been since I updated mine.  It's neat -- you can save a draft locally and publish it to your GP-hosted blog only when you're completely done with it.  Even if you're offline.  The code that GuildPortal needs to make it function with WLW will be going live along with the framework upgrade, sometime over the next week (we're still ironing out the best time based upon bandwidth usage and the availability of caffeine if it ends up being like, really really late).

Makes me wonder about the possibility making other parts of GuildPortal able to disconnect and let you browse forums, post replies, send web-based mail, etc., and then upload what you've done the next time you're connected.  We had an offline forum viewer for a while back in the days of .NET 1.0, but it was a serious dog (the networking code wasn't all there and, honestly, XML containing all the information is too verbose -- we'll probably look at JSON or something more lightweight).

We have been extremely cautious in our moves to new versions of our development tools, servers, frameworks, and just about everything else.  We'd rather put off throwing shinies out there for a bit, if it's a trade-off between that or performance/reliability.  The new version of the framework is very stable, full of goodies, and ready to go. 

It'll also help us justify the ungodly amount Microsoft is charging for licensing! 

We're looking forward to supporting Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and other hotly-anticipated titles (I only remember those two right at this moment because I'm going nuts waiting for them), enhancing support for games that have been around since the start, and yes, introducing a shiny or two.

As always, thank you for choosing GuildPortal as your guild's home on the web! 

Posted 7/23/2005 4:21 AM by Aaron Lewis. 116333 reads. Share:

We've recently finished our latest hardware upgrade -- this one affecting every bit of hardware we've got running over at RackSpace's data centers in Texas.  New database server (monster thing), web, and firewall upgrades are done and the migration of code and data took a total of about 6 hours.  The DNS stuff took a bit longer for those living in parts of the net where updating of name servers takes longer than others, but overall it was a smooth move to the new boxes and data center.

We can't express how grateful we are to the members of GuildPortal who are spreading the word in their games, directly leading to more people signing their guilds up for hosting here.  This is especially important to us in the new games that come out, when they pull in people who have played no previous MMOG and hence, have not heard of us.  World of Warcraft is a prime example of this.

That said, though the traffic is increasing, it's not necessarily leading to a proportionate increase in the subscribers compared to the sites being used.  In essence, our costs rose dramatically with the upgrades (check out RackSpace's prices for an idea -- they're one of the best, but their pricing reflects it), but our ability to cover the costs hasn't necessarily risen in proportion. 

That's OK!  As long as the service pays for itself (and for food, etc.), it's all good!

But now a shadow looms on the horizon.  Our old friend Sharbel at GuildWizard needed more time to focus on other business, and sold GuildWizard to IGE.  Well, actually, he sold it to OGaming, which is owned by IGE (info: 1, 2, 3).

Typically, when you have a new product (it's not new, but its ownership is), you have a couple options when you want to generate some traffic in an already-saturated marketplace.  1)  You make it SO good that nothing else compares or 2) You offer it for free for a limited period of time.  With IGE/GuildWizard, it looks like they've gone the route of #2.  It's clearly a market share grab, and while it might sound a bit repugnant to some, it's standard fare and commonly practiced.

Now, what's scary?  The best product doesn't always necessarily win.  If you have a major financial backer (like IGE), you can hire a huge staff of programmers and throw them at it.  The product itself doesn't have to be good enough, initially, to pay for its own development, because your other product lines (selling in-game items, currency, and accounts in IGE's case) can cover the costs for as long as necessary.  Offer it for free, and you're a double threat.

Add to that the other heavily-trafficked sites owned, such as OGaming.  Leverage the traffic there (by means of ad banners directing people to the GuildWizard service), and now you're getting people who've never heard of your competitor (GuildPortal).  If they're not the comparison shopper types, they may never hear of or visit any other product.  Grab a big enough market share, and you may never actually need to improve the product at all.  One day, turn off the free offering, start collecting the data that guild owners are entering (like quest or item information, including drop locations and frequency), and you've got a guild hosting product that will not only stand on its own as a revenue generator, but it could also act as a data source for your game information/news sites (OGaming), and as a pretty decent reference when your staff of item/currency farmers (IGE staff) are looking for good spots in the games to monopolize spawns in order to sell items for real cash.

It all sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, and maybe it us.  But it also sounds like good business, if "good" means "revenue generating" and nothing else.

Why is it scary to GuildPortal?  Well, if they've got unlimited resources to throw at grabbing market share, then we may have something to worry about.  As I said before, the new upgrades to the service are extremely costly, and we don't have other marketing channels that can fund GP -- it's been self-funding since the day it went live.  It had to pay its own bills, and it had to do so by being a good product.  MMOG players are some of the most technical, skilled, and demanding customers I could ever imagine.  They've led us to creating a product that meets their needs, and we're grateful beyond words for that.  Hopefully -- in this case and in spite of a plethora of examples to the contrary in every market -- the best product will win.

Anyway, this isn't a press release or official statement from GuildPortal.com or Axiom Shift, LLC.  It's just my blog.