Planning Only Goes So Far

Thursday, September 15 2005

Before we get into this: I’m exhausted. When you read this, picture me just hanging on. The tips of my fingers are sore from typing, and my butt hurts from sitting. In the past few days I’ve had about 6 hours of sleep, and all remaining time has been spent coding and talking online.

I finally launched, or at least the beta (which means I can get away with having bugs). The game is sort of like a simple version of Monopoly. You arrive in the game with some money, and proceed to roll the dice. If you land on an available square you can build a hotel. If you land on someone else’s hotel, you pay them rent. There are other little things too, but that’s basically the premise right now.

It sounds too simple to be enjoyable, and might very well be if there were no one else playing, but as you’re playing, so are a lot of others. While playing people will land on your hotels and pay you money, just as you’re landing on their hotels and paying them money. And it happens when you go to bed at night. The world is persistent. This is fun!

It’s even more fun for me. The second I put it up online and people found out about it (and once I told Andy about it) it had 577 signups in 12 hours. This, as you might imagine, made my life interesting for a while. What ran as a perfect game in development was suddenly crashing and bugs were springing up all over the place. So I closed the doors to newcomers until I could feel comfortable with opening them again. Right now, I’m closer to reopening them, but very apprehensive.

In this pressure cooker, I’ve discovered something that I think is important for most people working on most projects, web related or not: you can only plan for so many things, but you’ll never be fully prepared for launch at launch.

Think about it – name one thing in this world, that upon launch, was perfectly suited for what it was intended to do the day it was sprung upon the rest of us? Everything fails to some degree or another – if you’re able to modify and tweak things on the fly, you stand a good chance of getting it right eventually, but it’s never perfect right out of the door.

So I’m embracing this reality. I’m having to move quickly to respond to user demand, but at least now I know exactly what my user demand is. It’s not just me making an educated guess.

This begs the question though – what if people hate the half of a product you shipped because it’s just half a product? How do you recover from that? At the very least, I believe I was able to plan for this. The game started with some very functional forums that allowed beta testers to quickly report issues and talk about what they were experiencing. I try to answer every question as quickly as possible, and make it as clear as possible that the game is just me. It’s not some big faceless entity that doesn’t see what’s going on. It’s me, this guy who wants to put out a neat toy, and is hungry for the voice of the people who will play with the toy.

Keeping my presence in the game and in the community that surrounds it, I believe, will guarantee it’s eventual success. Allowing the community of users to “own” the game by pushing me in interesting directions will also guarantee it’s eventual success.

Check back in six months and see if I was right.