Project Agora and the Future of Social Gaming

If you've been following my blog or social media, you'll know that I've been working on a secret project called Agora for several months now (agora meant a social gathering place in ancient Greece). This project actually goes all the way back to August when I started looking for ways to take GoldFire Studios to the next level, and that thought process has taken me on a six month journey that will reshape GoldFire Studios and hopefully browser-based gaming.

The idea for Project Agora came from the realization that the so-called social gaming of today is broken. The gaming industry tends to go in cycles, like many other industries, and generally speaking a trend will spark something that is farther reaching and has more staying power than the last. I believe that social gaming in its current form (I'm talking about the Farmvilles of the world) is that trend that will kick off the revolution of truly social gaming, and my goal is to put GoldFire Studios on the front-lines.

Social Gaming 1.0 was all about bringing the gaming population to the web and establishing a massive new base of players who had never played a game until Facebook came along. This cycle has been wildly successful, doubling the gaming population many times over, but it is nearing its end and will make way for an amazing future of online gaming with Social Gaming 2.0. We will start to get back to our gaming roots with much higher quality games providing fully immersive online worlds, stories and characters.

These games will be truly social because they won't force you to spam your friends to move up a level, they will allow true multiplayer gameplay like we see on consoles and more traditional games today. They will facilitate the growth of communities and new relationships, connections between gamers from all around the world that wouldn't be possible on traditional games or today's social games. Most importantly, they won't be tied to any single social network, they will be part of the open web and part of the open world-wide community that is known as the web.

Project Agora, Phase I: GoldFire Network

Project Agora isn't a singular thing or product itself, but a framework by which the future of online gaming will evolve from. The first stage of this will be opened to the public within the next few weeks (a very limited private beta began this past weekend) in the form of the GoldFire Network (the name could change at some point down the line, Agora is taken unfortunately). The GoldFire Network will start as the connection of our two games, BC Wars and PokerRPG through a game portal and toolbar, but will expand to much more than that over time.

GoldFire Network Preview

While the portal will only be for GoldFire Studios games initially, it is possible that third party developers will be brought on board at some point later this year to build games on top of the new platform. However, this wouldn't be a free-for-all platform like Facebook, where quality is sacrificed for quantity, but rather a premium network that strives to give the best possible social gaming experience to all players (my favorite way of thinking about it is the Xbox Live of the web). All of the non-game-related and communication features will be integrated into the portal (chat, messages, notifications, etc), so that the focus can be placed on the games themselves. All of these features can be easily accessed from the portal and the network toolbar as well, but 90% of the screen will now be dedicated to the game, not all the "stuff" that takes up space right now like friend invites and the Facebook/Google+/etc website wrapping the game itself.

The network toolbar is a thin bar that goes along the bottom of the screen on all pages of the network (just 30 pixels tall; again, with the focus being on the game itself). This is what connects a player into the ecosystem of the network, and allows for the social and community aspects to flourish. While the truly social nature of these games comes from the real-time multiplayer gameplay/interaction, it needs to be complimented by solid communication tools, and the network toolbar offers just that.

In addition, a network-wide premium virtual currency has been developed -- GoldFire Gold. Right now, PokerRPG has points and BC Wars has gold, which can be bought with real money or earned by completing offers. These will be converted into GoldFire Gold and can then be spent on either game. So, if you buy GoldFire Gold in PokerRPG, whatever you don't spend in that game can be spent in another, like BC Wars. The idea is to unify the ecosystem and provider greater value to all players.

There are many other cool little features that I won't go into detail on right now, but they will make the experience of browser-based gaming a more enjoyable and engaging experience (oh, and it has all been designed to be touch compatible for all you iPad, iPhone and Android owners out there). What is really cool though is that this has all been built in a modular fashion, which allows for the ecosystem to be extended and built on top of over time, making the experience that much more customizable and complete.

What comes next?

One of the reasons it took so long to get to this point with the launch of the GoldFire Network is because I've been busy learning new technologies like Node.js throughout the planning and development process. The platform is built on top of these technologies, and as you might have already read, these technologies will start to spill over into BC Wars and PokerRPG, taking them into the new direction of the game studio. These technologies are suited perfectly for real-time interaction, which somewhat exists in both games, but will be taken to a completely new level over the coming months.

As I'll be talking about at SXSW next month, a revolution in online gaming is coming. The comination of real-time technologies like Node.js, MongoDB and WebSockets combined with emerging graphical technologies like HTML5 and WebGL will allow for very high quality games to run right within the browser with no need for any downloads or plugins. This future is coming quickly, and I've been busy repositioning GoldFire Studios to ride the crest of the wave as it breaks. This platform is just the beginning, but as these new technologies mature and the ecosystem grows, a wonderful world of online gaming awaits us, and this future is going to come faster than you may realize.