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Designing a Gameless Game: Sulka Haro On Habbo Hotel
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Designing a Gameless Game: Sulka Haro On Habbo Hotel

October 10, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

It seems like you've added more of what we traditionally consider video game-like game elements to Habbo over time. What was the reasoning behind it?

SH: I guess the initial couple of games we did were very small. There's this funny diving kind of game, which is not a game at all. You just dive down, and you can do moves while you're diving. It's completely silly. We actually had a prototype of that even before the hotel itself was created, but that was not launched publicly ever, so the idea kind of lived, and we decided to do that with the hotel.

Then there's -- the name's just horrible -- Wobble Squabble, which is a... what do you call it, when people stand on a log, and you try to push the other guy off? With the thing that you pull? It's kind of popular as well. There's some mad players who have played like 50,000 games total. They've really lived in Habbo over a long period of time just playing the game.

So these would be like the super minigames, which are really popping out more and more nowadays, but then we've been expanding into doing more complicated stuff, where the user is actually playing what you would identify as a game, like the snowboard game, and you have proper games, like throwing snowballs.

I guess, partially, it's good business. There are people who actually want to play, and they pay money for it. But also, at least in my view, if you're looking at, like, a 13-year old guy, who is used to playing games, it's easy to communicate that, "Hey, there's this game-game here as well, and if you start off on playing that, maybe you'll get used to talking to the other users and get excited to meet people and eventually do the other activities as well." It broadens the scope a bit as well. The action in Habbo is really in the rooms themselves, so...

I don't enjoy MMOs or virtual worlds or things like that, but in the past I have used MySpace or other social networking sites. Habbo Hotel isn't that far removed from that, honestly. Well, I guess it does have one step of removal, because you have an avatar that you create, but I suppose that you could create an avatar on MySpace too.

SH: Theoretically you could play Habbo like you would play a social networking site, and certainly people have, so they can grab hold of contacts. But then again, there is so much more that you can do with the contacts. Look at LinkedIn, for example -- it practically died at some point, and I think it's because everybody who was interested in gathering contacts went there and got them, and...

There was nothing to do.

SH: There was nothing to do. Whereas what we have is that you can come in and get contacts, and then actually start doing stuff with other people. There's a fundamental difference as to what you can do and what you can't do, and social networking sites... I think there's plenty who are really struggling to add activities. With Facebook, for example, applications are just brilliant, and add so much you can actually do.

Without applications, it probably would pretty much die away, because you wouldn't have anything to do with the other people except pass messages, and there are other tools which are just so much more efficient for just passing messages between people. Being able to scribble onto somebody's walls, or play some games, and invite people to be vampires -- which Raph is so sick of, and I'm getting sick of that as well.

Luckily I'm not on Facebook, so I don't know.

SH: But anyway, there's a lot more. Even sites that were perceived to be purely social networking are expanding to be more like games, to have stuff for people to do.

It's funny that people really talk about the film and game convergence and stuff, but the game and social networking convergence is much faster. It's like a year or two years, that it's really ramped up to where you can't extract one from the other in many ways, like with MMOs or Xbox Live Arcade or things like that.

SH: There's some really interesting discussion going on currently, it's fairly new, about "social graphs." You can probably Google it up. People are envisioning that we should actually have systems whereby you can move your social graph of people from one service to another, and that there probably should be an independent third-party similar to, for example, the domain name system, which would upload your contacts, so that you could sync and have the same contacts available everywhere. It would be really cool if we could have that, because then if you went to a new service and were playing a game and your friend came online, you'd be able to automatically link friends if you want. Just moving the contacts between the different sites is a messy thing, though.

It's especially difficult, obviously, because the services really don't agree with each other, and function differently, even in the contacts side. With Xbox Live, you can add friends pretty easily, but with something like the Wii or the DS, you have to have friend codes, and you have to share those in an "outside of the console" context in order to make that connection.

SH: A problem that I'm hitting is that I'd want there to be more than one identity for myself within even one application. So for Flickr -- I'd want my streamed photos, like high-quality stuff. Then I'd like there to be another stream for stuff I take on the phone, which is completely different views. There's the proper photography, and then there's the [random] stuff happening. But I still want to be able to aggregate that in the same profile -- I don't want the hassle of having multiple accounts.

You're talking about different layers of information.

SH: Yeah. The same goes for my blog, and everything. Really, having an easy way to manage multiple identities and actually have some level of control as to how people see those would be really good. Also there's like... so if I go to a new service, maybe that service has implemented a way for you to import your contacts from another service? It might be that I actually don't want my friends to be able to import me from another service, because I'm doing something that I don't want people to know. But then again, just having to have multiple e-mail accounts just to be able to do that is a hassle as well. There really should be more refined ways to manage contacts and identities between services.

I'm sure someone's working on it and figuring out how they can make money out of it right now.

SH: If you look at the social graph discussion, that's basically pretty much it. But they're also saying that if somebody did start to make money out of it, it really doesn't work. So it probably should be independent.

And people always want to make money out of everything. It's always the way.

SH: Maybe we'll get some visionary willing to fund it non-profit, someday.

If I were rich, I would do things like that all the time. But I'm not rich, and I probably never will be! At your keynote, you briefly discussed Scrum. I want to know what you thought were the ups and downs of Scrum for developers. I know a lot of people have tried it.

SH: I guess yeah, if you tried it and abandoned it, it's probably because you just couldn't tolerate the initial pain of switching how you work. Changing processes really... if you're used to doing things a certain way and actually start to do things differently, it's a horribly difficult thing to do. I know from experience, and switching to Scrum takes two or three months at least before everything goes over. The first planning sessions are bound to be horrible. It's a fact of life. Because people are just struggling to start doing things differently.

If you're a producer who's really used to having exact control over what's happening, it's probably pretty hard to let go, because actually you do need to give room to people. But I guess the benefit really is that once you do do that, the people actually will be more motivated, and they will be doing things that they know are more productive.

For example, looking at scheduling, for example, if the schedule's wrong, with Scrum you at least know that real quick, whereas if you're using Microsoft Project, it could be that somebody works on something for two months, and only after that comes and tells you that the project schedule is not going to work. If you're having fast iterations, you have to at least... if you're going to be screwed up on schedule or design or whatever, you should know that pretty quickly, which allows you to actually react pretty quickly. You end up saving a lot of effort for projects that would fail.


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