Pay no attention … oh okay, fine

It’s been a while since our last post, but the cold and rain (and latest World of Warcraft content patch) haven’t kept us from our duties. As the year draws to a close, I want to give you all a peek behind the curtain to see what we’ve accomplished in the last few months.

Terminology changes
As part of the process of taking a comprehensive look at the entire system and thinking about how it should work for all types of games and organized play groups, we’ve changed a couple of the terms we use in Warhorn:

  • The attendee role once called “judge” is now called GM
  • The use of “game” to describe an activity occurring in a schedule slot was confusing in a lot of different ways, so we now call this a game session or more generally an activity session

We’ll be continually adjusting the vocabulary as we go forward, especially as we start to look at enabling Warhorn to better serve non-RPG games and even non-game activities such as talks, classes, performances and other types of shenanigans that people get up to at gaming events.

One account to rule them all
Probably the most requested feature through the years has been the ability to have a single Warhorn account for all events. This was the first feature we built, and I think it will be one of the most welcomed. Now when you become a Warhorn member you have access to every event in the system (except private ones to which you haven’t been invited, of course)! No more confusion around why you can’t log in to AwesomeCon’s site when you already registered for FLGS Weekly LFR games.

Your account has many of the goodies you’ve become accustomed to with sites like Facebook, such as profile pictures and friend relationships. We recognize that gaming is at its core a social activity, and we are embracing that notion with 2e. Future features for paying members will make it super easy for you to find the events your friends are attending and sign up for games with them.

You can also specify your geographic location so that in the future we can help you find events occurring near you. We’re very interested in any other location-based services that will enhance your gaming experience, so if you have any ideas, let us know!

Dashboard
When you log into Warhorn, you immediately land on your dashboard. This page gives you quick access to the upcoming events that you’re attending and those that you’re organizing as well as public events that were published since the last time you logged in.

We’ll be enhancing the dashboard over time to provide search capabilities so that you can find events based on the games and other activities they’re offering, whether or not your friends are attending, and other factors. We’re also planning even more advanced search and notification features for paying members.

Event setup
Finn’s done a great job of making sense of the current site’s messy event setup interface and breaking it out into a number of simpler steps.

Perhaps the most noticeable new setup feature is the ability to publish your events without having to fill out a request form and waiting for me to approve it. Set up and publish your event on your own time while I play Rock Band and tank Icecrown Citadel!

Event setup is accomplished with a wizard-style, step-based interface that guides you through the entire process. When you’re done, you can publish the event so that it appears in the public event listings, or you can keep it as a draft and come back to re-edit later.

Event URLs
I have been very fickle through the years with my URL naming schemes. You may recall how I went through a http://www.warhorn.net/CamelCaps period of a year or two before switching back to http://www.warhorn.net/alllowercase URLs.

There was a technical limitation that kept me from being able to follow the lowercase, hyphen-separated convention typically used for news article and blog post URLs, but that’s gone with 2e. Now your event’s slug (the part of the URL that specifically identifies your event) is computed based on your event’s title. If your event is named “Awesome Con 2009”, then its URL will be http://warhorn.net/awesome-con-2009.

In the future we want to give you the ability to customize the slug. Use your own naming schemes, not one imposed on you by the man!

Venues
When you enter the details of an event’s venue, you can specify a street address, which gives us the ability to generate maps and include your event in location-based searches, and you can choose to make the venue private so that those who aren’t registered for your home game can’t show up on your front step 5 minutes before game time. Venues you create are saved so that you can use them again for subsequent events.

Overview content
The content that appears on your event’s overview page has been completely overhauled. Remember how the page had huge holes in it if you didn’t specify any “hotel” or “community” information? That goofy layout is gone. Also, we provide a full-featured WYSIWYG rich text editor so that you can format your content without having to be an HTML monkey. And you can preview the content as it will look on the overview page so that you can get it right before publishing the event.

Registration fees
We’ve also totally reworked the registration fee system. Rather than giving you a very low level, hard to understand system of “payment packages”, we’ve addressed the most common use cases for organizers who need to charge registration fees. We support all-access and daily registration, early registration discounts, and other arbitrary fees and discounts.

As before, we use PayPal to process payments, but this time around we’re integrating more tightly with them so that Warhorn will know when payments have been processed in order to automatically clear people to sign up for games. Attendees will no longer have to wait around for you to get email from PayPal and then come to Warhorn to manually clear them.

Slot management
After you’ve done the initial setup of your event, you’ll want to specify the event schedule. You do this by creating “slots”, or blocks of time to which activities are assigned. The existing site’s slot management interface is a morass of menus; 2e’s is much more compact, and the menus are hidden until you need see them.

Scenario management
Another long-standing complaint about the current site is the need to re-enter scenario information for every event. With 2e, we have created a site-wide scenario catalog. Over time, with your help, we will populate it with every known scenario, so that when you go to schedule a game session, you’ll simply type in the first few characters of the scenario’s name and choose the appropriate one from an auto-completed list.

Paying members can create customized scenarios for their events, either based on existing scenarios from the site-wide catalog or totally from scratch.

We’ve also built a much more comprehensive list of RPGs (295 at present) and given you the ability to add new ones yourselves without having to email me.

Finally, we’ve added the ability to tag a scenario with the level of rules knowledge needed, the scenario’s thematic content, and who’s responsible for providing characters (the GM or the players).

GM approval
Organizers need better tools to manage which people are allowed to function as GMs, so we’re giving them to you. The first such tool allows the organizer to approve or reject attendees who sign up for game sessions as GMs. Only approved GM signups are included in the summary counts for each session. When a GM is approved, if a game session has been configured appropriately, a new table will be opened (subject to available capacity) and the player waitlist adjusted.

In the future we’ll be adding additional GM tools for paying members, such as the ability to maintain a “whitelist” of trusted members whom are always approved to act as GMs at events you organize.

Registration management
As those of you running large events know, the current site’s registration list gets unwieldy very quickly as the number of attendees grows. And because the list shows so much data, it’s hard to focus on the specific information you need when you’re just trying to perform a routine management function. I’ve felt this pain myself, and I think we’ve got a pretty good solution to the problem.

The 2e registration list is automatically filtered to show you only particular sets of attendees, specifically those who are cleared to sign up for sessions, those who are pending (not yet cleared), and those who have canceled their registrations. You can clear pending attendees directly from the list, and for those who have canceled, you can see how much of a refund they are owed and their reason for cancellation.

There are also filters for those attendees who have been approved for GM sessions and those who have sessions which are still pending approval. The list shows the game sessions for which each attendee is signed up as a GM and allows you to approve pending signups.

The list is paged, so that you can scroll through the list 25 (or 50) attendees at a time, and you can sort it by a number of different attributes. These techniques keep the page size small and focus you on the set of attendees you need to work with to accomplish a specific task.

We’re still in the process of building the registration management section, so things may still change before you we roll it out, but I hope this gives you a good idea of how we’re addressing problems in the existing site.

What’s on deck?

Oh man, there’s still a lot to be done. Right now there’s no way to create game sessions and assign them to slots, and there’s no schedule interface for attendees to browse or use to sign up for sessions. We also have a bunch of work ahead of us to enable registering for an event and managing user account profiles and settings. And there are a number of additional features we’ll be building for paying members, such as table mustering and the character registry. Finally, let’s not forget visual design, where we put a skin on the as-yet-unadorned bones of the site.

When can you see it?

Though a small group of alpha testers has been working with us for months, we still need to take care of some of the work I mentioned above before we’re comfortable opening up the new site to a wider audience.

Those of you who are in the software business will be familiar with the phrase “release early, release often”. I’m generally in favor of this practice, but frankly, we are in a strange situation with 2e; we have 8 years’ of expectations built up as to what our site is supposed to provide.

We don’t want to make 2e available simply as an unattractive patchwork of disconnected features that winds up giving people a bad impression of what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish and driving them off. So, we’re waiting to show it off more widely for a while longer, until we’ve reached a point where we think people will be able to get really excited and see a migration path away from the current site.

Finn and I would love to hear what you think about all this. We welcome comments on this blog or on our pages at Facebook and the Wizards community site. Or, if you’d rather talk to us in private, drop us a line at info@warhorn.net.

Thanks! -bcm

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8 comments on “Pay no attention … oh okay, fine
  1. Bryant says:

    Sounding sexy. I have a concern (cause I’m a user, that’s what we do…):

    There are a lot of event URLs out there. I have business cards with my event’s Warhorn URL on ’em. I will be sort of sad if those cards are all made obsolete instantly. It’d be nice if preexisting events could get a forward to their new URL.

    And if not, hey, I’ll cope. 🙂

  2. Brian says:

    we haven’t finished hammering out our migration strategy yet, but it seems likely that we will keep the existing version of the site running in parallel with 2e, leave existing events alone, and encourage people to switch to 2e for new events. seems like the that requires the least amount of hassle for everyone.

  3. Rey H says:

    It’s great to see you responding to feedback, rather than redesigning the system in a bubble. Keep up the good work. Hope to see a sandlot or demo soon.

  4. Monique says:

    We can’t wait for 2e. It seems to have all the features that we need and want – especially making it more open to use for classes, workshops and con events as well as games. Yay!

  5. Kyle says:

    Why are we back to CamelCaps?

    And how about releasing Warhorn 1.7 with some useful stuff you guys have finished?

    • Brian says:

      I don’t recall using camelcaps for quite a while – if that happened, it must have been a mistake.

      Unfortunately, 2e is built on a completely different platform, and there’s no opportunity to share any of the improvements with the existing version.

      There will be a new blog post soon talking about what we’ve been up to for the last couple months. Keep an eye out for it.

  6. […] The last update post was something along the lines of “it’s been a long time since we posted, but here’s a description all the great work we’ve been doing”. I wish I could say the same thing now, but instead I have to explain why we’ve been pretty much silent since the beginning of the year. […]

  7. […] may remember previous blog posts describing various attempts to update Warhorn for the new decade. Turns out every one of those […]

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