What BAQON Enables: Gaming

Have you downloaded a multiplayer game for your iPhone? Trying to play real-time multiplayer on the iPhone, despite its gaming power, is difficult for me.  When I think about playing multiplayer games on the Wii, it’s one thing if we’re all playing off my system in the same room — it’s another to try and play multiplayer online.

The problem I run into more often than anything is that I don’t seem to have a lot of friends.  More to the point, despite how many hundreds of actual friends I have, we never seem to be online, playing the same game at the same time and aware of each other so we can play together.  The exchange of friend codes on the Wii is so ridiculously complicated, I imagine that it is so much better on XBox because of all the Microsoft integration, allowing you to port friends lists in and out of the platform.  I love the Wii for so many things, but the amount of work some of my friends put into manually managing their friends in each game, and scheduling times to play with each other online… it seems like a lot of work and I wonder how often it actually does work.

While there’s no consistent friend management on the iPhone, most online multiplayers I’ve installed hook up with Facebook Connect to put you in league with friends.

That still is a limiter, however.  Case in point? Scrabble, which has a pretty clean and obvious multiplayer component using Facebook.  You can play Scrabble on the web, through Facebook, or on the iPhone; both methods are portals to the same game which is what I’d expect to happen.  Compare this setup to Mafia Wars, which has a web-based portal outside of Facebook, a web-based portal in Facebook and the iPhone application — at least the iPhone and the Facebook portals have no means of playing the same game.  So my 147th level Mogul? Completely inaccessible to me on the iPhone, where I needed to start from scratch — which is why I uninstalled Mafia Wars not two seconds after figuring that out.

Unfortunately, even though I know a lot of Scrabble players, we’re never playing together at the same time.  Scrabble at least can hook me up with someone on Facebook that *is* playing when I’m playing (at the moment of starting a game), but that’s the only point of shared awareness.  If my opponent makes her move, I still need to either launch Scrabble to find out about it or launch Facebook to get the alert (or get the alert texted to my phone, etc). Unless there are several of us playing the same game on the same WiFi network, Scrabble can’t find anyone playing right nearby me, which is something I might prefer.

I deconstruct this part of the multiplayer experience in games to highlight one common gap that BAQON is intended to solve.  Gamers benefit from having location-aware and situation-aware services that connect them to their friends or potential friends nearby them, regardless of how they’re accessing the same (or similar) game.  It seems to me that if I’m limited only to playing with people on my wifi network OR people with Facebook accounts OR people playing on iPhones — that’s still not nearly as many candidates for meaningful connection or competition as ALL of those people, plus people who are playing the same game in the same place but through their cell service AND people who are playing the game who don’t belong to Facebook AND people playing the game on anything but an iPhone.

So, it’s not obvious for people who know me now as opposed to 9-10 years ago, but I used to build web-based games for kids 6-12.  I was producing them (writing up proposals, managing the project) and developing them (coding in ActionScript, programatic animations, architecture in Flash).  I worked with a team that produced the media and handled the server-side code and database layers.  This was my first job after teaching, and I loved it.  Making games was fun and I was very good at it.

There are many ways in which developing games is easier now.  For one thing developers now have frameworks to employ, like OpenFeint to handle high score boards, username, in-game purchases, unlockable items, etc.  On the other hand, games are so much more complicated now.  There’s more competition, your user base is savvier and likely more casual and definitely more interested in connecting with their friends and competition — all things you need to design and develop for.  You’re still largely responsible for maintaining or paying someone to maintain a backend to the game you want to build and that takes a huge chunk of resources to accomplish.  You’re nailed if you build a game no one wants to play, and you’re doubly nailed if you build a game that becomes so hot that you can’t handle the scale of adoption.

If you’re going to be building a game that touches the internet, I think you’re going to be interested in BAQON.  BAQON will provide your players with the ability to connect with each other based on location.  The intention is that BAQON will work with identity services like Facebook Connect or Google or MSN or… pick a service.  What we’re hoping you won’t need to do anymore is deal with is all the effort it takes to deal with your own backend for highscores and multiplayer awareness.  BAQON is not a socket server, but it should make it much easier to create interoperable real-time gaming experiences.  In that respect, I think it’s going to accelerate a lot of game development.

For one thing, if you’re a game developer and you don’t have to worry about maintaining a back-end system to mitigate your high scoreboards, even that by itself, probably saves you a huge boatload of time, money and resources.  This allows you, as a developer of a small game to focus on the actual game — not the servicing of things that aren’t the game.

If you’re a game developer with multiple titles, the ability to create an entry parlour where players can get line of sight into who’s playing what games of yours locally should help to expose new players to your other titles.  After all, as gamers are becoming more social, gamers will want more gaming experiences they can actually share with each other — almost impossible to do that right now, even with the emergence of location-aware gaming devices.  Now, people playing a game in one location may have line of sight into all the games being played in the same location.

By abstracting out persistent gaming information, you can enable multiple points of entry into shared game experiences.  This means you can potentially build games on multiple platforms and it’s all the same game.  When World of Warcraft launched, it was revolutionary because Macs and PCs could play with each other.  How many of the thousands of game titles around allow users to play with each other across platforms? It feels like it’s mainly the web-based titles, and as I use the iPhone I see that the stovepipes are still around. I believe we’ll help solve for it.

My question for you: if you’re building games and/or are gaming actively, what am I missing?