Cheap Deals – Cheap Ass Gamer

September 16, 2007

I stumbled over a great site the other day for cheap game deals (note: its mainly for the US) http://www.cheapassgamer.com/

Not only do they list loads of up-to-the-minute video-game deals, but there’s a healthy forum there full of advice and interesting discussions. They even have a forum dedicated to game trading which, naturally, I’m kinda interested in.

What struck me about all this was how great it was to see a game swapping community doing so well. It’s given me a lot of encouragement for what Swopster could achieve (eventually).

Obviously I still have a long way to go though – the CAG site has over 25,000 members.

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Getting Halo 3 Early?

September 15, 2007

Some news over at MaxConsole about at least 2 lucky gamers buying Halo 3 before the official release date.

Hey, will this start a sudden tourist rush to Norway?

XBox 360 Games – Available for Swapping (UK)

September 14, 2007

Its quite interesting to see what games are available for swapping within Swopster. The Xbox 360 is the most popular console with the members at the moment – here’s a quick list of the XBox 360 games members are offering for swapping (these are for the UK):

Xbox360 – Amped 3 (1)
Xbox360 – Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (4)
Xbox360 – Battlestation: Midway (1)
Xbox360 – Bioshock (1)
Xbox360 – Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII (1)
Xbox360 – Brian Lara Cricket 2007 (1)
Xbox360 – Burnout: Revenge (1)
Xbox360 – Call of Duty 2 (5)
Xbox360 – Call of Duty 3 (5)
Xbox360 – Call Of Juarez (1)
Xbox360 – Colin McRae: DIRT (1)
Xbox360 – Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (2)
Xbox360 – Condemned: Criminal Origins (6)
Xbox360 – Crackdown (14)
Xbox360 – Dead or Alive 4 (4)
Xbox360 – Dead Rising (5)
Xbox360 – Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires (1)
Xbox360 – Enchanted Arms (2)
Xbox360 – F.E.A.R (3)
Xbox360 – Far Cry: Instincts – Predator (4)
Xbox360 – FIFA 07 (2)
Xbox360 – FIFA Soccer 06 (1)
Xbox360 – FIFA World Cup: Germany 2006 (4)
Xbox360 – Fight Night Round 3 (6)
Xbox360 – Football Manager 2007 (1)
Xbox360 – Forza Motorsport 2 (4)
Xbox360 – Full Auto (2)
Xbox360 – Gears of War (16)
Xbox360 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (1)
Xbox360 – Hitman: Blood Money (9)
Xbox360 – Import Tuner Challenge (1)
Xbox360 – Just Cause (2)
Xbox360 – Kameo: Elements of Power (5)
Xbox360 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2)
Xbox360 – LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2)
Xbox360 – LMA Manager 2007 (1)
Xbox360 – Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II (3)
Xbox360 – Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (2)
Xbox360 – Madden NFL 07 (1)
Xbox360 – Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2)
Xbox360 – Medal of Honor: Airborne (1)
Xbox360 – MotoGP ’06 (1)
Xbox360 – N3: Ninety-Nine Nights (1)
Xbox360 – Need for Speed: Carbon (3)
Xbox360 – NHL 2K6 (1)
Xbox360 – Over G Fighters (2)
Xbox360 – Perfect Dark Zero (8)
Xbox360 – Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game (1)
Xbox360 – Prey (3)
Xbox360 – Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (14)
Xbox360 – Project Gotham Racing 3 (18)
Xbox360 – Saints Row (7)
Xbox360 – Shadowrun (1)
Xbox360 – Sonic the Hedgehog (2)
Xbox360 – Spider-Man The Movie 3 (1)
Xbox360 – Table Tennis (10)
Xbox360 – Test Drive Unlimited (6)
Xbox360 – The Darkness (2)
Xbox360 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (9)
Xbox360 – The Godfather: The Game (2)
Xbox360 – The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth (2)
Xbox360 – Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007 (1)
Xbox360 – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (3)
Xbox360 – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (14)
Xbox360 – Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas (6)
Xbox360 – Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent (9)
Xbox360 – Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (2)
Xbox360 – Top Spin 2 (3)
Xbox360 – Transformers: The Game (1)
Xbox360 – Two Worlds (1)
Xbox360 – Viva Pinata (5)
Xbox360 – WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2007 (6)
Xbox360 – Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Volume 1 (2)

This is the kind of information I’m hoping to plug into the site pretty soon, allowing you to see at a glance what great games are available.

More Ideas to Improve Free Game-Swapping

September 13, 2007

With the inclusion of the whizzy new feature to let you see how many swappers are offering a specific game in a swap and how many want a specific game title, I’ve been thinking about extending this whole thing a little bit further.

Basically, I could either provide a new filter when you browse through the game lists and get it to only display the Available or Wanted games (rather than having to page through lots of pages), or have a brand new ‘Available’ page to show which games are currently on offer.

Or do both, I guess.

Naturally, it all gets horribly complicated by what country you’re in and whether you’re logged in or not (you can only swap within your country of residence).

So…I’m not sure which of these would be best, tbh. And that normally means I’ll implement both of them…damn…there goes the rest of my spare time.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

5 Top Productivity Tips

September 12, 2007

Its very common to suffer burn-out on long running projects – indeed, developing a large or complicated project over a long period of time is very, very difficult.

You need to prepare yourself for this long, slow burn – most projects simply won’t be concluded very quickly. You’ll have periods where you simply can’t be bothered, you have other things to do, etc. and your project suffers because of it.

Of course, the difficulties are compounded if you’re developing your project in your spare time.

My take on it now (after numerous false-starts and abandoned projects) is to follow a few simple steps. None of this is earth-shattering or new, but it certainly helped me, so I though I’d share.

1. Organise your time

For me (working in my spare time), I try to work at least one hour per night, with about 6 hours at the weekend. In fact, this was is a minimum. Most of the time, I’ll exceed these targets by quite a bit. You do need to set a reasonable, achievable schedule though and stick to it.

2. Maximise flexible working

The most useful thing I ever bought was a laptop. The freedom it offers is incredible after years of being anchored to a desktop PC at a specific point in the house. No more scuttling off to hide away in a little room anymore.

So, although I can be working on my laptop, I’m still there in the room when my wife watches her programmes on TV or plays video games. It can be a little distracting at times (especially when she’s waving the Wii controller like mad playing Resident Evil 4…) but, on the whole, it feels much more sociable (even though I seem to have my head stuck in buggy code forever).

3. Cut down on TV

There are some great shows on TV. And there seem to also be thousands upon thousands of low-quality crappy shows that can somehow paralyse your fingers and stop you from hitting the off switch. Luckily, in this age of set-top boxes with hard-drives in them, waiting around for your favourite TV shows is a thing of the past.

I simply never watch live TV anymore – anything I want to watch needs to be selected on an electronic programme guide and can be viewed when its convenient. Just doing this filters out an amazing amount of cruddy trash. I also started dropping the shows that I watched but thought were a bit pointless; so Big Brother, property shows, etc. were jettisoned.

4. Keep an up-to-date to-do list

This really, really works. I use the power of the mighty NotePad to keep a list of everything left to do on a project. Crucially though, each major task is broken down into a series of minor tasks. None of these minor tasks are estimated to exceed 2 hours (this is very important).

5. Complete at least one item on the list each day

Then, simply start working through the list. The goal of completing a task (any task) – no matter how trivial – means that at the end of every day you get to mark something on the list as DONE. This simple action of completing a task every day is incredibly rewarding.

It’s vitally important to always keep in touch with your project, even if you’re just firing up your IDE and adding some extra comments. Otherwise, it can take an absolutely monumental effort to get the ball rolling again. Once you stop, it simply takes a whole lot more effort to start again.

It’s just a list, isn’t it? And yet, seeing that I’d completed something every day, and getting into the rhythm of working through the list each night, somehow raised my productivity out of sight to what it had been before.

Just remember to stay focussed on the list.


Using these simple little steps, I went from being one of the laziest, most inefficient, undisciplined part-time developers around, to coding at a steady, sustained pace for 8 solid months during the development of Swopster.

The amount of code I generated and the high level of motivation I kept throughout this period still amazes me today.

Of course, your mileage may vary…but I’ve heard lots of similar tales of folks maintaining motivation through similar methods.

Good luck!

Gaming News – BioShock, Metroid, Wii and Lair

September 11, 2007

A little round-up of all the recent gaming news…

While I’ve played a lot of FPS games ever since they first arrived on the scene, I thought this interesting list of the most influential FPS games over at Gunslot aptly demonstrated the huge graphical improvement through the ages. It’s funny how those early, ground-breaking games were awesome at the time, buy now they look pretty tame. It makes you wonder – will we be thinking the same of Halo 3 and BioShock in years to come?

Speaking of BioShock, Metroid is currently outselling it… Way to go Metroid!! I have a soft spot for the cute little Wii – its not as graphically impressive as the super-duper next-gen consoles, it doesn’t have the most impressive title line-up…but I have to say it is way, way, way more fun.

Not wishing to go on about the Wii too much, but I noticed a great looking crossbow controller for it. Now that would be fun!

Also (and I pray to the Jedi lords they’ll actually make these), a proper Wii light-sabre is on the cards too. Oh man, that would be fantastic!

Rather brilliantly, Sony has hit back at negative reviews of Lair and sent out a ‘reviewers guide‘ just to give those pesky reviewers an idea of how to play their game.

Eeh, you couldn’t make it up…

Don’t Stand Still

September 10, 2007

No matter how good an idea you have, it can always be improved upon.

I was mulling over this thought the other day. With Swopster, the raw basics of a decent swapping network is there: it works, lots of people sign up and folks are swapping games for free.

Job done? Time to put my feet up? Errr…nope…because there are still so many ways to improve it.

For instance, the site usage suggested there were a nucleus of swappers out there who were very keen to hunt out and initiate swaps. The previous – quite rigid – swapping framework simply didn’t allow them do this.

It’d become pretty apparent that my initial design was…a little too strict and rigid. With the best of intentions, I’d originally tried to make swapping games for free as simple as possible: you list your games, the games you’d like – abracadebra – you get a list of all the possible game swaps you can make. Instant and simple.

This concept works really well for those people fully tooled up with armfuls of popular games…but not for quite a lot of others – especially if there are no exact swap matches for their games. You had to wait until there was an exact match between yourself and another swapper before you could swap a game.

So, as I mentioned in Joining The Dots… the service has now been upgraded with 2 exciting new features:

• Available/
  Wanted
Next to game listings, you’re able to see how many folks are offering that game in a swap and/or how many want that game. From there, you’re also able to see who they are and…critically…what games they have on their lists.
• Messaging You’re now able to send and receive messages between each other.

There are a couple of important reasons for bringing in these new features now.

I realised it’d be much better to allow you to see who had the specific game you were interested in or who wanted to swap it. This would really help to open up the Swopster game swapping network.

There was still a problem, however. The way everything worked, even though you could see other members games lists, you still couldn’t actually communicate with them (unless you rigged up a game swap to match with them and then sent them swapping messages after agreeing your game swap – this was unbelievably clunky).

That’s when I realised it would be much better to simply allow everyone to communicate directly with each other. This should make the swapping system much, much more flexible. You can negotiate swaps before committing to them, rather than waiting for the swap-matching system to pair them together. Of course, there are numerous anti-spam safeguards built in to prevent any sort of abuse of the messaging functions.

The critical thing here is, when they’re used together, these 2 facilities really do open up the whole Swopster game swapping service. They give you a whole lot more freedom than you ever had before. You can now actively find and chat with other members, negotiate swaps, ask questions about their games and a whole lot more!

The intention is to stimulate swapping, to get more folks seeking out and negotiating swaps, to connect people together.

The service is expanding and being enhanced all the time – if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvements, please leave a comment or drop a message in the Swopster forums.

Joining The Dots…

September 9, 2007

Today its my birthday, woo-hoo!

While I’ve been opening all my presents, I thought I’d also give all the Swopster members a little present too.

So, the site has been updated today with the results of the project code-named ‘joining-the-dots’ – a series of changes that I’ve been really eager to introduce for a while now.

Instead of having to wait for Swopster to automatically match up your game lists with someone else…you can now see who owns which games, which games they want, and send them messages:

avail.png

Basically, the service has been freed of many of the constraints that were in place before to deliver a more open, flexible swapping service.

I’ll post more details when I’m not stuffing my face with chocolates and sorting through my new DVDs.

Right, I’m off to continue celebrating another year…

Stickiness: Encouraging Repeat Visits

September 8, 2007

[As part of a new series of articles, I thought I’d discuss a few of the design ideas within the Swopster site. These concepts aren’t just applicable to free game swapping – any sites where you’re trying to get users to interact with each other need to solve similar problems]

Encouraging members to keep coming back to the Swopster site time and time again is an important goal. My vision is of a large, healthy community where members regularly indulge in free game swapping between themselves with as few problems as possible.

The cycle of swapping a game is the biggest draw – after going through the cycle and completing a swap, the benefits to the members are terrific: the ability to try out different games by simply re-using their existing games collections.

However, until members have gone through the free game swapping cycle successfully, there’s still a need to keep them involved and active within the Swopster network. There are a number of elements designed to nurture this involvement.

Expiring Swaps

When members request swaps, there’s a time limit on each request (3-14 days). The main reason this was done was to stop members endlessly waiting for specific swaps and cluttering up other members swap lists.

expires.png

However, this also helps with stickability – even if a member has issued a whole stack of swap requests, they will still need to re-visit the site if none of the requests are agreed.

Logon Usage

As discussed in the Chicken And Egg post, the logon usage graph is publicly visible for every member within the Swopster:: Free Game Swapping network:

usage.png

This handy little graph shows how often a member has logged in over the past 5 weeks. It’s a useful way of establishing how active a member is. To keep their graph looking active, members need to login regularly.

Alternative Swaps

On the face of it, members can simply build their SwapList and WishLists, and passively wait for matches and requests. They never need to return to the site – they can just sit and wait for an e-mail request. However, new games are being published all the time, and I didn’t want members to miss out on a new game they hadn’t heard of or set-up in their WishList.

So, I implemented the Alternative Swaps function. One of the benefits of knowing everyone’s likes and dislikes is that we can suggest alternative swaps which can be immediately matched. This is a really useful way of showing the member games they might not have even thought about.

altern.png

Currently, the alternative swaps aren’t sent out as e-mails. This means members have to login to take advantage of this useful facility. As the member numbers grow, this facility will take on more and more significance.

These are just a few of the techniques I’m experimenting with to encourage repeat visitors to the Swopster site – I’ll post additional articles as more strategies are tested.

Chicken And Egg: Building Trust Between Anonymous Users

September 7, 2007

[As part of a new series of articles, I thought I’d discuss a few of the design ideas within the Swopster site. These concepts aren’t just applicable to free game swapping – any sites where you’re trying to get users to interact with each other need to solve similar problems]

Trust

community.png
Building trust between users is a little tricky – within Swopster, users are simply identified by their made-up username. They could be anyone. How do you know if you can really trust them? You don’t want to send your shiny XBox 360 game off to a complete stranger without knowing anything about them, do you?

In the real world, you’d get to know someone first, chat to them, perhaps talk to their friends. You’d be able to spend a bit of time finding out about them. Obviously, it’s impractical to do any of this when presented with a big long list of folks who want to swap a game with you.

With the Swopster site, I figured there’d be three main factors involved in how other members perceive you: your swapping history, your member ranking and your logon usage pattern.

Element #1 – History

Each time someone swaps a game, everyone learns a little bit more about them and it’s the perfect opportunity for them to build up some trust. Since they’ve swapped a game, another user will leave a feedback score (which could be good or bad). The more swaps they complete, the more swap history they’ll create.

All history and feedback is public – by making the system as transparent as possible, other users can scan through the swapping history to build up a fairly representative picture of other members.

Element #2 – Ranking

However, there’s a bit of a conundrum here – if a member has no previous swapping history, other members may be wary of swapping with them. This leads to a classic chicken and egg deadlock – no-one will swap with them because of their lack of a swapping history, but they’ll never build a swapping history because no-one will swap with them… To help combat this, each member also has a ranking – essentially a score of 0-10 represented by 5 stars:

ranking.png

While the ranking is heavily weighted towards positive swapping histories, there are a number of other things that can be done to boost a member’s ranking. These other elements are not dependant on their swap history, but will take a little effort to attain.

For instance their SwapList/WishList game lists are analysed to ensure they have a healthy balance that is beneficial to other members (a 1:1 swap/list isn’t considered healthy as it greatly reduces the level of choice within the free game swapping network). There are a number of other elements such as how many member referrals they’ve generated, how regular a user they are, etc.

Element #3 – Usage

So, armed with someone’s swapping history and ranking, will they show a complete picture of that member?

Well, within the context of Swopster, that’s not quite enough.

To stop members waiting around endlessly for other members to respond to swap requests, each request has a time limit on it (3-14 days). However, even before making a swap request, members can quickly see how active a member is through their logon usage graph:

usage.png

This shows how often they have logged into Swopster over the previous 5 weeks. It gives a clear indication as to how regular a visitor they are (I’m surprised I’ve never seen this before – as far as I know, I invented it!). The more regularly they visit the site, the more probable it is they’ll agree to a swap request.

Combined together, all these elements are intended to give members the opportunity to build a degree of trust with other members.

…And The Best Bit Is…

Of course, a useful by-product is that – generally – the actions they take also benefit the wider Swopster community by building traffic and encouraging regular participation in the site.