Friday, 13 September 2013

Letters from the Engine Room #4


Welcome to the latest Letter from the Engine Room. It’s been a while but work never stops here in the Playfire factory.

Although we've been absent from the blog, it's only because we've had our heads under the hood, developing, improving and tinkering! It's all been very exciting, so let's get started shall we?

First let’s chat about Playfire Vulcan, which has received some neat and essential refinements recently. In the latest update, 0.0.41, you’ll see we've added some new UI functionality in the form of a neat, slick-looking toolbar that integrates playfire.com better with the PC experience.



The UI toolbar essentially opens up several new opportunities in which we can develop the Playfire client and how you use it. Now messages are no longer hidden away in a menu and notifications have been streamlined into a simple and clean icon - it was slowly getting crowded! It’s just the start, too, it provides us a foundation to build and incorporating potential new features - such as friends lists etc. - to make it the full Playfire and gaming companion we all want it to be. Of course there were a tonne of other fixes and improvements bundled in, as well as the ability to log in with either your Green Man Gaming or Playfire account, so be sure to check the raft of other changes included in 0.0.41 here.

Feedback is always paramount when trying to improve Playfire Vulcan and steam of non-stop communication with us has been invaluable. Every blog comment, every post on the forum, and every support ticket takes us that little bit closer to perfect.

Of course Playfire Vulcan is only as good as the website it services, which is why we’ve finally undertaken the much-needed server migration. If feels like we've been talking about this for a lifteime, but Playfire.com is now much faster, more stable and scalable, which puts us in a far stronger position than we were previously. You’ll see that the home page, profile pages and game pages all load much faster. So much so that Lee (a.k.a Joolz) will be returning to the blog for the next Letter to explain exactly how awesome it all is - some wizardry that I don't understand but imagine that it's like giving Sonic a new pair of shoes. Classic Sonic, not this new Modarn Sanic nonsense.



The server migration was no easy task, and for the most part it went really well, however we are still tying up the loose ends. We've had some initial difficulties with server-side game tracking - the new servers have highlighted areas of the infrastructure that we need to look into. As a result we've currently turned Xbox Live tracking off, but PSN and Steam tracking is back online. While Playfire Vulcan is unaffected by this change, we appreciate that this is frustrating this must be for many of you to here and we're acutely aware how important it is for us to get this working, not only well, but better than it ever has been.


As many of the loyal readers among you are already aware, tracking the game data for so many accounts creates incredibly large databases. While the new servers help us address that, we're also looking at other clever ways to be more efficient with the data. One of Playfire features to draw extensively on the databases and the game trackers is gamercards. Don't worry, we don't intend to get rid of them, we know you love them to much, but instead we're considering turning them into a feature for registered Playfire users only. "Won't people just register and carrying on using gamercards?", you might ask. Probably, but that's not a problem. What this helps do is remove the workload the servers have to do for those people who once created a gamertag many moons ago - maybe used it in a forum they no longer visit - and instead make the service more reliable for the people who still do use that feature.

Finally, we also had to remove Xfire during the migration. As you may already know we've had a difficult time supporting the service due to the number of changes they make, and it hadn't been working in a while. It's safe to say that there weren't that many users on Playfire that used it but we can see the attraction. That's why we've decided that we're going to work towards getting many similar features that fans liked about Xfire included and developed for Playfire Vulcan. Doing so allows us to create the all-in-one service that integrates seamlessly - and to a greater depth - with Playfire.

That's not all we're working on either. Thanks to our speedy new databases we can begin working on some of the bigger features that we've been keen to add to Playfire, and you probably have to. We'd probably lose count if we attempted to list off all the features we want to add to Playfire, but we're starting with one of the more simple and logical additions - a search engine. Quite simply it's a chore to find games on Playfire and it needn't be. You can expect it be quite basic at first, but doing so will allow you to play around with it, tell us your thoughts, so that we're confident that we're taking it the right direction.

We've got plenty more in our bag of tricks that we're eager to see your reaction on, but we'll save that until next time.

As always, we'd like to thank you for your patience while we upgrade Playfire. It's quite the challenge for everyone involved, but your support has helped drive and motivate everyone in Team Playfire to take Playfire to the next level.

Until next time.

Ben (radMonkey), Joncol and the Playfire Team.