12 March 2007

Gaming On Sunday

So last night I played some computer games with a couple of friends and my brother (all of whom, it seems, are absent in the blogsphere). I finally got around to trying the multiplayer of Dawn of War which was good fun. Due to the network setup though we could only play 3 at a time (as we couldn't get my brother's machine, on the same network as mine, to talk with GameSpy). I got beaten, a lot, but it was really good fun when it was working. It took a while for us to get there though. Now getting network technology that just work isn't an easy thing to do, and I appreciate that, but the lobbying system from GameSpy honestly seems to go out of its way to make life hell.

First I need an account, that's cool I've got other games that use the GameSpy network. Oh no, each game needs its own account, my Civilisation IV registration doesn't work with this one. Obviously that username will be taken leading to me setting up yet another username that I need to remember (though it does remember it, I just hope I don't need to reinstall). Furthermore the registration process just seems borked, if you take too long it will just fail, if you go for a username that is already in use it will just say you've entered the wrong password (even though you are creating an account). Finally when you get in you are treated to a lobby system where you can find your buddies, maybe, if they are in the same room. Of course you have to find out what their random username is since they've had to create new accounts too. Finally, with Dawn of War we discovered that you could play an expansion pack against the original but GameSpy's system treated them as two different games so you couldn't if you wanted to use the lobby.

I get that Microsoft's GamerTag system works because of the closed nature of the XBox. That allows you to do things like register a friend and have that person as a friend irrelevant of what they are playing. It would be good to see a friend playing Dawn of War when I'm playing Civilisation IV and just be able to join them in the game. Steam works a bit like this, by entering a friend's email you can send them an invite and they have only one username and it is the closest I've seen to the XBox's system in terms of usability. I get that you don't want to be handing your email address out to everyone though I'd find anyone I'd generally want to mark a friend I'd be happy to, and some unique address, like an email address, seems to make a lot of sense from a user perspective because they only have one login to remember. Of course then you'd have an alias that you made up (non-unique) for a game, the master server could hold the email address and the game servers would get a derived unique reference (so they can still ban a given user, say, but not know what that user's email address is).

We still need a service to tie it all together though. XFire is attempting to achieve that but, the problem is, that it is still a closed system (and the interface is hideous). Using something like XMPP we could build it on the back of IM technology (and the likes of MUC could be used as the basis for a lobby). Gamers Own Instant Messenger is attempting on doing status and in game messenging but it and User Gaming offer little more than informing people what games a user is playing (though a link to the server might well be enough for someone else to join). Of course XMPP might well be able to use Jingle or such to sort the network stack to start the game. I think XMPP would need to be further extended to become a gaming platform but then that's exactly the sort of stuff XMPP is designed to do.


Anonymous said...

Dude - Take a look at PLAYXPERT (http://www.playxpert.com). It just came out of stealth and was announced at the GDC. I'd be happy to get you an invite into their Inner Circle.

Gary said...

I hadn't heard of that before. It looks really interesting and if you could I'd be interested in taking a more detailed look at it.

Charles said...

Just saw this with some Google Searches...

Email inviteme at playxpert and then a dot com.

Make sure you mention that you saw this on this site. I didn't see a contact for you Gary - otherwise I'd send you an invite directly.