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Who is on-line on an open platform?

We’ve had a few requests lately for a “who’s online” widget on the Saito Arcade. This is great as it shows more people are coming to the Arcade. It also tells us that our strategy of polishing the games is paying off – attention is shifting from the games themselves to the process of finding opponents. A liveness widget is an interesting idea. It also raises a deeper strategic question. So, I thought a quick piece explaining what we are thinking in-house about the opponent-finding process might be useful for stimulating public debate.

The Saito Arcade looks very much like an ordinary website. You can play games, chat, and socialize with friends, so a feature that tells users who else is online makes sense. But the arcade is not an ordinary site. Notice that users don’t login. And, someone can be connected to the Saito Network but not at their computer. Or they can be connected but using a totally different application. 

Making things more complicated, games are not even played “via” the Arcade – they can be played without users even having that application installed. As a bit of historical trivia, it’s interesting to remember that the very first games on the Saito Network were put together before we even had an Arcade module. Invites were sent as messages that users would receive in their email/wallet and click to accept. Games were initialized and played peer to peer (as they still are). We didn’t have card deals then (chess only!), so there was no initialization process and joining games were instant. The only guarantee we have about other Saito users is that they will have a wallet hooked up somewhere at the edge of the network.

Considered this way, the current arcade is less like a walled garden and more like a bulletin board for game invites that provides a UI for configuring invites and handling game initialization. Once browsers are communicating directly, the Arcade can drop away. So while building a liveness widget is one way – but we think there is a better strategy for growth. Namely, instead of turning the Arcade into a destination website where we need users to sit around with an open tab waiting for strangers to show up, we think a better approach is to make it much easier for people to schedule games and share invites socially. Once we have a critical mass of users coming to the Arcade we think that community chat and public game invites will sort out the find-opponent problem.

Before I explain what we are hoping to do here, I want to say that we aren’t opposed at all to someone developing a liveness widget. If you’re a dev and are looking for a reasonably straightforward project to tackle, we would love to work with you on getting this coded and deployed. We’ll provide as much support as is needed to make this application a reality.

With that said, our own team will be more focused on features that don’t require people to be sitting at the Saito Arcade at all. This is why one of the new features that went up last week was the ability for users to create and share game invites as private links. Why not invite a friend by dropping a link in WhatsApp, Telegram or Wechat? The idea is to push the Arcade out into other social spaces. Want to drag someone from Discord into a game? Just send them the link – you won’t even need to explain what Saito is or encourage them to visit the Arcade.

More long-term, we are looking at ways to add support for tournaments and leaderboards and calendars that will let players schedule games in advance. If you want to have a game of Red Imperium after work, why not tweet a link to your gaming calendar and let your friends schedule themselves into your Monday or Friday games? Saito servers can support this process by sending reminder emails or SMS messages. Improving asynchronous game scheduling should also lead to more people being generally available for real-time games.

With that said, there is nothing wrong with a liveness widget. So if anyone is interested in helping us tackle this, we’d be delighted to get  hook you up with a mentor here and show you the ropes. Please send a note to community@saito.tech.

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