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Taking an idea, and running with it.

Posted by halffast Wednesday June 25 2008 at 6:07AM
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Simply said, what is the one common thing we all use in some form or another? Where do we inevitably end up spending most of our time and attention while at a computer? In case you missed it,it is right there in front of your nose, or on your lap, or in your hand . What is the common thread that is tying all of these devices together? The Internet, brought to you in part by your favorite browser.

Web browsers are really the only thing with such complete market penetration that you are almost guaranteed to be usable for a huge audience if you can build your system/service/game to work on the major browsers. I know, I know, cross browser support is HELL. Believe me, I know. But what other way can you think of that allows so much versatility to pull in real information from all over the world? The web browser is the platform that has maintained dominance and quite likely will remain there for a long time to come. I believe this is because of its open door policy to what you are allowed to do with it - specifically what you are allowed to do with what is instantly made available to such massive levels of people through use of it.

Sure there are benefits to all the technologies and tools out there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying other tools and platforms don't have their place. They wouldn't exist if this were not the case. I'm proposing that we can better leverage the Internet, even for use in our games, if we will step back and take a few lessons it has taught us over the years and realize it is telling us, even begging us to more effectively use the one thing everyone has. The browser.

I look around at the plethora of services/games that are actually based on this versatile platform and I almost have to cry. It is so pathetic that we have hardly even began to see the potential that is available to us. Social websites are a prime example of this problem. Think of how many hours are being wasted away in disconnected, poorly thought out and mostly useless applications. And people still don't hesitate to try a new one! Think of the thirst that exists there to retain users like that! It is a wonder that there are still many, many people that haven't give up on the whole mess yet.

Why? I think they too realize the potential. They want to see an extension of the benefit that the social sites have effectively filled - they have become connected to so many people with an ease that was never thought possible before and these users are begging for that connection be continued to their applications. In fact, the problem facing avid users today is too much "connectedness." Users are much more likely to be left in a state of overload, fairly wasteful overload at that, than to not have anything to do. Everyone has a role to play, and like it or not, they are all playing a role within the realm of whatever service they have signed up for - even if their role is by its current definition, practically useless.

Why not take a lesson from this, and find some real beneficial ways to connect our users, and define a useful "connectedness" that will be more ready and able to keep users coming back for more and more, and not because there is nothing of use out there, but because we have made a way to connect them to the things they care about in the ways they want. Again, I say we can realistically do this with what we already have at our disposal.

We see the systems that are successfully pushing the boundaries are the ones that are winning out. This seems to be the only real sure fire rule. Sure there are underlying factors that really determine what you can or cannot do, but that limit is far from being reached and we are constantly finding that our assumptions on some things are completely miss based. We have a tendency to move on if the mold presented to us currently doesn't seem to fit exactly what we are looking for. We move on rather than looking into what it really can be made into for us. And as far as at least the gaming industry goes, this is what we have been trained to do.

What I'm saying here is that this mold we currently have on how the Internet can be used, and specifically how it can be leveraged through the browser, can really use some reworking. We can't just sit there with it staring us in the face all day and not realize what an asset the browser itself can be for us if we will just seek out and find the ways to leverage it properly to fit a more useful role.

If anything I am trying to point out here the simple fact that good services are made into exceptional services based off of the interface options they allow their end users - which is ultimately decided by what kind of platform you allow your users to use to connect to your service. Search engine providers don't develop a massive, hugely successful system and then go make a custom app and force everyone over to that. Not the really successful ones anyways. They continue enhancing their product committed to the model that brought them their initial success and open it up for more and more people to make use of it in ways that work for them. This all still is facilitated through the browser.

We really do have a very versatile resource staring us right in the face. Yet we often fail to see it as such, let alone make much use of it as such a tool. There are so many facets of a game that could be moved to the Internet in a very useful way that it really is kinda weird that we haven't seen much more than scoreboards and simple community connectors showing up as a level of integration with our games.

It will be advantageous to be making more strides into thinking along the lines of the open mentality of the web when building the next generation of games. Ideas of making use of existing services right into our games, and allowing our games to be more readily connected to other such open and available services will go a long ways in realizing the ultimate platform. Just think how cool/useful it would be if your social website could actually plugin to your favorite game and cause real time commands to be issued and followed and actually effect other users that are there in the game. Or you game can allow a connection to your favorite web services, or maybe you play a game that actually rewards you for collecting useful information that is posted online and that fills a useful need in real life. Your imagination really is the limit once you get to this point.

Aspects of a game can be built to tie into the same systems we use in our browser, multiplying the effect many times over for both types of users. I guess what I am really trying to get at with all of this is, what if we had services that were able to be consumed and shared between our gaming hours and our many other desk hours, and that the benefits could be shared by more then our online friends who actively play our games with us, wouldn't that be such a useful thing to accomplish? Would we still sit around playing mindless games, racking up points that mean nothing more than how much of a life we just wasted away? How far of a stretch would that really be to the existing, segregated molds we have in place today? How much of it is really unfeasible, and how much of it has just never really been tried all that well?

I for one am looking forward to what comes after the game producers and social sites realize their users will not remain obsessively  compulsive, click-hungry zombies forever. Not all of them anyways. And whatever comes next, once this realization really sinks in, it is really going to be when things start to get exciting.