On Improving the Game

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Hattrick.png This is an official Hattrick Editorial
originally published 2006-04-18 16:17:00 by HT-Johan

Hattrick is a great game, but we can do a lot to become better still. Let's talk about how we plan to get there.

Next year, Hattrick has its 10th anniversary as a web game. This was a project that started as a one-man operation, and for many years it was driven simply as a pet project by a small group of aficionados, who had to work double jobs to keep Hattrick running. Mind you, it was fun then, and it is fun now, but a lot has changed along the way. Most users today expect Hattrick to perform as all other major web sites, and perhaps don’t see that we are still a small team with limited resources, doing the best we can to deliver what is essentially a free game with limited advertising. In growing, we get new responsibilities, not only to our users but to our employees as well. We’d like to explain a little about how we plan to grow our organization in a sustainable way, to cope with your demands.

Investing in the Hattrick site

Historically, we have had a tendency to react to performance problems and hardware limitations rather late, simply because it has been easier to be cost efficient that way. Over the last two years, since the Black Friday in 2003 when Hattrick had to revert back to a backup copy of the game, we have put a lot of work into our technical systems. That has made Hattrick safer and more reliable, but it still hasn’t been enough – the problems we had earlier this year proved that. We can never guarantee that things like this will never happen again, but we can take on costs that will help us spot potential issues earlier, handle them quicker, and probably also enhance the overall game experience for our users. This is a departure from our historical philosophy, which has often been to accept short term inconveniences in order to find the time to fix long term problems. In the future, we hope to improve in both areas.

New Partners and Team Members

To boost the reliability and development speed of Hattrick, we are adding three full time positions to the Hattrick team. From May 3, HT-Berg will join us to work solely with our 40 servers, working proactively to minimize potential problems and making sure we have sufficient capacity. HT-David has recently joined us as project manager for the development team and we are currently recruiting another feature developer for the game.

We have also entered a technical partnership with Intel. After using their hardware for many years, it feels good to have them onboard as official partners. This will give us access to better support and hardware upgrades, and it will clearly help us prepare for future growth.

Uptime review for Supporters

As usual, it’s impossible to issue any guarantees about our future performance. But we would like to say that we will approach the issue of performance more systematically and professionally in the future. As a symbol of this, and as a gesture towards our Supporters, we will add an uptime guarantee for Supporters. Every month, we will send our Supporters an uptime summary of the previous month. We will then extend all Supporter subscriptions for a period equal to the downtime the last month. Quite simply, if the site is closed down, at the very least you will not be paying for it. This makes our performance more visible to everyone, and it makes us a little more accountable for the site and its uptime.

We will make this bonus retroactive for all current Hattrick Supporters to compensate for the large amount of downtime in March. All Supporters will therefore get an extra four days of Supporter added to their accounts. The uptime in April so far has been 100 percent.

Hattrick Supporter and Advertisements

Technology is not everything, and we will get more done in game design as well. Later this week, we will introduce some new features for the game, with a new version of Hattrick Supporter as the centrepiece. We will also, for the first time since we launched the service five years ago, raise the price of Supporter from 19.50 to 24.80 a year. Most of this increase is compensation for inflation, which has been 19% (UK CPI D7CV) since the price was set in June 2001. While price hikes are never popular, it will lead to better performance on the site, and we know many Supporters want us to make that a higher priority.

We are also evaluating our ad policies. Ideally, we can make the game nicer while also using more efficient ad formats. Last week, with the new redesign, we made the banner space smaller for Supporters. In addition, from now on, we will not show unrelated banners to Supporters at all, only ads for Hattrick products, community events or campaigns related to select Hattrick partners. Non-Supporters will still get the classic top banner ad. We should say we are looking into other ad models for non-Supporters, for the reasons stated above. Rest assured, we will not go for larger formats than today, pop-ups or spam – but we might explore dynamic text ads, for example.

Community Interaction

In the next few months, we will start working more and more actively with surveys to find out what the community are thinking about various things: from the game experience as such, to technical issues or how well the administration of the game works. We think this will balance the "normal" way of tracking user satisfaction, which has typically been through the forums alone. As Hattrick grows, we need to make sure we really understand what you feel about the game.

All in all, we are looking forward to a year of improvements in all areas of Hattrick. We hope to be in great shape when we celebrate Hattrick’s 10 year anniversary next year.