"It's all about the community, social not anti-social."
There isn't a single feature but rather a suite of things we have been working on to improve the 8Realms community experience. The first rule is: "Make a fun game". It's the core our community will form around; without it our community would be hollow. The next thing is to provide the tools to make interaction meaningful and to incentivise community interaction.
The first thing you will notice is the Friends Tab on the Activity Stream. From here you can manage all your 8Realms friends, requests and ignore list. Now, an important decision we made early on was the introduction of Empire Names. This is to allow you to have a per-server identity which has the following benefits:
• The smaller namespace means you're more likely to have the cool name you want
• Well-known players get a fresh start
• You can maximise your scheming and plotting on forums
• It keeps your Jagex name private for your privacy and security from the wider player base
Friends are symmetric, which means you first ask to be my friend, then I have to say yes before we are friends, and vice versa. This lets us give your friend certain permissions, the simplest of which is to see your Jagex name as used on forums and the like. It also lets us do things like cross-server chat. The nifty little social drop-down, seen across the game (see screenshot), gives you quick access to some of the most common features.
So let's look at our friend's profile and compare our Empires quickly. The chat is automatically brought up on the left side of the screen; this shows not only chat messages but any activity that happens between us. Chat, trade, social tasks, and the like will appear in this stream, keeping a nice clean record of your interactions. You will notice we have also shifted around chat a bit based on feedback. We have also added a bit more feedback on searching for players' names, some small functionality tweaks and improved performance. Next you will see us comparing some numbers and stats, and I can easily see what wonders my friend has built.
The real gold is the relationship bar; it gives a quick metric of how nice or nasty this player has been to me. This will become more and more relevant as we beef up social interactions; it quickly identifies griefers and friends. This makes managing 20+ neighbours a lot easier; sorting them into naughty and nice boxes. A very exciting thing for us is the work that has been going into building the equation. It lets us identify positive and negative influences on the community, making improvements where necessary. It also gives us the abilities, in the future, to give cookies and coal to players based on their behaviour, or to shove massive signs on them saying "Nice Friendly Empire" - all of which might help us solve trickier issues like Tile Griefers.
Sometimes game tools that don't look social are the true social elements. Some of our most active forum threads are all about the leaders and their progress. Features like Elite, with its leaderboard system, can serve a social purpose. This leaderboard, which is replaced by the Race for Glory board once that starts, shows you all the Elite players and their capital positions. This can become a central talking and planning point, much like a notice board in a common room or a whiteboard in the office.
A quick development update
On a side note, much pizza and curry has been fuelling what we hope to be an update this week. The build is currently with our testing team and they are looking for bugs. There is no planned release date for this update. If it passes testing then it's ready to go out, otherwise it goes back into development. Normally we wouldn't be talking about it so much, but we are very aware how close our two Closed Beta servers are to ending, and we're trying to get some changes tested - by you, our lovely Closed Beta testers - before this round of servers ends. We are also aware of our Wonder Builders currently edging to the finish.
You are a brilliant bunch; we love hanging out with you on the forums and sharing our work with you all. We hope this update, future updates, our approach and 8Realms overall will foster a community you can enjoy.