The year 2013 was crazy and it's hard to believe we're wrapping up and getting ready for 2014 already. While the year was filled with ups and downs, as Worth mentioned in his article, we are building toward a long-term vision of what digital Magic should be. Despite the challenges we faced during the last half of the year, the work planned for 2014 helps set up Magic Online for a strong future.
With new additions to the Magic Online team this year (check out Mike's article for what our product manager is up to), I've been able to focus on future features and projects. Most of my work revolves around defining project requirements, prioritizing features, and planning final delivery for all the awesome things we have coming down the road. Right now, this work falls into three main categories that I want to talk about: the Wide Beta, Leagues, and our suite of internal Magic Online management tools.
The Wide Beta
As you all know, we've been hard at work on the next version of Magic Online, although we're obviously not where we hoped we'd be when we started the year. As I wrote in October, performance and stability are our primary concerns and we have a team of external platform experts rebuilding the Wide Beta's foundation.
This work falls primarily into three buckets: improve our crash-reporting system, fix any systemic crash problems, and make the scenes with lots of information faster. So far, on our internal and closed beta environments, the results have been very good.
You can see the improvement in the videos below:
Loading Play Lobby
If everything goes as planned, we hope to get first version of the stability and performance updates into the Wide Beta early next year and be working on the rest of the interface by early spring. With a more stable game client, we expect to be able to deliver feature updates at a relatively quick pace.
First on our list is finishing up features in the Duel Scene, or the battlefield, including making sure targeting and effect associations are clear, addressing some of the remaining movement issues, and fixing bugs. We also need to continue to address usability issues in the Collection, especially around managing large numbers cards, trade binders, and wishlists. Chat will also get some updates around managing multiple chats.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's still a lot of work to be done and we're excited to get back to regular feature deployments and move toward a world where we are only maintaining one version of Magic Online.
That brings up the inevitable question: "When are you turning off the current version?" While I'm not ready to provide an exact date yet, I can reiterate the philosophy we've held the entire time we've worked on the project: when the general Wide Beta experience is better than that of the current version, we'll turn off the current version.
How we determine this relies on many factors, but, as we've said all along, this is a collaborative effort. We'll have at least one more Spotlight and another round of surveys and, when it is time, we'll give players ample notice of the change. While not all players are going to like every feature change or design, we want to deliver a Magic Online that appeals to as broad a player base as possible. To make that happen, we need your continued engagement and feedback.
Use the existing feedback form anytime to give us your thoughts about the Wide Beta. Remember, you don't have to fill out the entire form each time you use it but can just fill in areas you want to provide feedback on. We review the feedback regularly and use it to help adjust design direction and prioritize feature work, so make sure you make your voice heard.
If you're looking for more design insight about the Wide Beta or Magic Online in general, Jon Loucks has written (and will continue to write) articles you can find on mtgo.com. Also, look for a Magic Online Week article from another one of our digital designers, James Sooy, later this week.
Since the deployment of the current version, players have anxiously been waiting for Leagues to return. We know Leagues fill a very important role in our event suite—the ability for players to play in a Limited style event for prizes on their own schedules. As we've delivered new features over the years, players continue to ask, "Why this feature and not Leagues?"
The answer is pretty simple: complexity.
The features we've delivered over the past few years—phantom events, multiple-entry options, Cube drafts, and guild-style event support, to name a few—all required a fraction of the work a project like Leagues needs and we've been able to deliver them as part of the regular maintenance cycle.
Leagues, however, is a major feature that touches every aspect of Magic Online, from the top player-facing interface all the way down into the deepest layers of our infrastructure, and everything in between. Because of this, the project just required more resources than we could spare while still working on regular Magic Online maintenance.
As an integral part of the four-year vision for Magic Online that Worth mentioned in his article on Monday, the Leagues project was one of the first beneficiaries of the additional resources it provides. We've had a separate feature team developing Leagues since midyear and we're currently on target for delivery next year.
As part of this project, we examined the previous League structure and made adjustments that we think will improve the experience while keeping the core League structure intact. At the heart of this experience, we want to ensure that players who don't have time for the three or four hours a queue or Daily Event requires, let alone the eight hours of a Premier Event, can join and play in a League at their own pace and still get full enjoyment out of that League.
While I'm not ready to delve into specifics yet, the new system will allow players to better set the pace at which they play their matches and not be forced to play matches within a certain timeframe or miss out on matches. We're also changing to a match-win-based prize structure, similar to a Swiss-style event, which will eliminate the tiebreaker match grinding that prevented players with limited time from earning the top prizes. We're also improving matchmaking to help make sure players can find matches as easily as possible.
There is much more in the works that I'm not ready to share yet, but we're building a very flexible system that lets us explore Magic Online play experiences like never before. I can't wait until I can share more on our League plans next year.
Managing Magic Online
On the surface, improved tools for our game support and business teams aren't very exciting because they should be invisible to the player experience. What we are focused on, however, is making sure that the teams that work on Magic Online can do their jobs faster and better. Whether it is providing more flexibility or consistency in our event offerings, improving our communication and messaging, or improving our customer contact response rate, better internal tools let us serve your needs as a player and customer better.
Over the past five years, we've grown from a handful of event types and formats to dozens of different offerings with rotating prizes and multiple entry options and play experiences. Because of this, our first focus area is on the tools that create and manage events. We've designed a tool that is flexible, forward facing, and should improve the management of all the event types and prize rotations that compromise the current Magic Online experience.
While this article focuses on the major projects that are in flight, we have many more features and projects of all sizes that we're exploring. We are looking at ways to improve the ability for players to share their Magic Online experience and help build a stronger Magic Online community. We know that we want to improve how players trade cards above and beyond the classified system. And this just scratches the surface of the opportunities that are available.
I'm very excited about the future of Magic Online and I can't wait to share more with you all as we move forward. As amazing as Magic is as a game, our players are what make it special. I just want to say thanks for your continued support and I look forward to taking Magic Online into the future with all of you.
If you want to make your voice heard, I can be found as WotC_K in Magic Online or on the forums and as @ckiritz on Twitter, or you can email me about using the link below. Have a safe and happy holidays and see you in the new year.
Magic Online Business Manager