You may remember previous blog posts describing various attempts to update Warhorn for the new decade. Turns out every one of those attempts was doomed to end in failure. Now we’re breaking that trend with a long-awaited alpha test of the new Warhorn! We’d like to explain a few things about how we got here, what’s different about the new version of the application, and what “alpha testing” means to us.
How’d we get here?
In retrospect, it’s kind of hilarious how many checks we wrote with our mouths that our butts couldn’t cash. When Finn and I first decided to work together to make Warhorn something bigger and better than it’s ever been, we spent a lot of time in business strategy and product design meetings, and I put in several unemployed months working on a brand new vision of the app that inherited almost nothing from the original one. What we learned over time, and shared with you through the years, is that we had much more ambition than time, money and room in our lives to realize that ambition.
The question then became, how do we make the most of the time, money, and life balance we’ve got? Start small and update frequently. The new Warhorn has all the features you rely on from v1 and a couple more besides, all overhauled for stability and a great user experience. You’ve given us a robust list of improvements to work on from here, so that’s what we’ll be doing next. We’ll make updates to the application as we finish up new features or make tweaks to the existing ones rather than dumping a whole bunch of stuff out in one go.
As part of the process we also decided not to migrate data from the existing app into the new one. While it’s technically possible to do so, it’s an extremely challenging task. Removing that requirement allowed us to simplify a lot of things that would otherwise have been complex (see the notes on unified accounts below) only in order to support data migration. The old data won’t be going anywhere, and we may decide to migrate it at some point in the future, but for now we’ll be starting with a clean slate for the new application.
So what’s changed?
First let’s draw a distinction between “things that are new” and “things that are better”. In terms of large categories of functionality, there’s not that much that’s fundamentally new. However, the design of pretty much every aspect of the application has changed in some way. So while the concepts embodied in the app should be familiar, how you find them and interact them is in many cases completely different.
As far as totally brand new elements, the most obvious one is the fact that you no longer have to create a new account for each event. Instead, you create a single account for the entire app and then, for each event that you plan to attend, you go through a short and sweet registration process. There’s a dashboard that gives you a single location to go to see the events you’re registered for, the ones you’re organizing, and events you’ve attended in the past. It even has a very simple discovery tool, listing events that have been added since your last login, which we plan to greatly expand over time to incorporate search by location, game type and other criteria. I want to emphasize that this unified account is the number one key feature of the new app; more than anything else, this is the element that opens things up from a technical perspective so that we can make subsequent improvements to the user experience. We’re super excited to get this done!
The layout, structure and navigation system of the app have all been totally redesigned. Every part of the application uses modern UX design and Web application frameworks to make the interface simpler, cleaner and more responsive. Some sections of the app are almost ground-up rebuilds (the event schedule and the setup of registration fees are two that come immediately to mind) while others are fairly similar to their existing counterparts.
We’re convinced that the new app is superior to the old one in every way. If it’s not easier for you to use the new app to perform any particular task than we haven’t done our job well enough.
Okay, so what’s an alpha test?
In traditional software development, an alpha test is a period of testing conducted by a team of users who work with the developers but are not the developers themselves. This helps to find bugs and missing features caused by factors such as incomplete product specifications, developers making assumptions that don’t hold for real users, etc.
Since we’re a team of two and our only product specification is our understanding of the existing app, we’re using the term to indicate a period of testing conducted by a small group of long-time Warhorn users who have a deep knowledge of the existing app and/or a professional familiarity with the details of software development and testing.
This first phase of testing will give us the most bang for the buck in terms of discovering the less deeply hidden bugs and those that we’ve overlooked during development. All those pairs of fresh eyes will give us rich, high quality feedback about the design choices we’ve made. We plan to spend at the very least a few weeks listening to the feedback we gather from this period, fixing bugs and potentially reworking features if we deem it necessary. We’ll also be listening to feature requests from the alpha testers and incorporating those into our future features list.
Once we’re comfortable with the state of the new app, we’ll open up the new app to everybody for a public beta period. We’ll continue to run the existing app side-by-side with the new app so that you can compare the two, report bugs and feature requests, and generally get to know things. We consider it a bug if there’s a task you can perform in the existing app that you can’t in the new one, and we’ll stay in beta until that’s no longer the case. At some point we’ll exit beta, launch the new app and provide guidance on when we’re shutting down the old one.
It’s important to clarify that we aren’t yet committing to any timelines. Our alpha test may only need two weeks or it may need twelve; we just don’t know yet. It will depend on our schedules and those of the users participating in the test. We’ll let you know more as the timing becomes clearer to us. Keep an eye on FB/Twitter/blog – as the alpha test goes on we’ll be making a series of posts going into depth on the changes in the new app, including screenshots and maybe screencasts if we can figure out how to make that happen.
We’re excited! We hope you are too! Let us know!