Get the latest version of Trivially… version 1.2!

The latest version of Trivially – v1.2 – is now available in the Apple App Store!

If you go to the App Store to check it out – and there’s really no reason you wouldn’t want to, frankly – this is what you’ll see listed there as new or changed with this release… with some added details:

  • “UI improvements: Decreased answer reveal time to 3 seconds and simpler help text”

With previous versions, after players had rung in with their guesses, the correct answer was shown for 5 seconds. We’ve heard from a number of folks that 3 seconds would do just fine, keeping the game moving along. Thanks for the feedback!

(Note: we’re also thinking about adding this option: as a question is displayed, the first player to ring in with the correct answer would win that round, unlike the current game play where all of the players with the correct answer are awarded a point… thoughts? Let us know what you think…)

  • “In-app purchase improvements: fixed problem with apparently-but-not-really disappearing purchases after app restart”
If you’ve ever written or used software before – and who hasn’t, really? – you know that sometimes, there are bugs, even inside modern trivia apps. In this case, as described in an earlier post, there was a situation where if you purchased one of our excellent trivia packs, it would appear that the purchase didn’t “stick” under certain circumstances. Of course, the purchased item was always available, but it appeared at times to not be there. We were able to reduce the possibility of this happening via a subsequent over-the-air instant trivia update, so that it affected fewer players. But with this version, 1.2, it’s been fixed for good. Please accept our apologies if you ran into this…
  • “Improved UI while a purchase is in progress”
More user feedback: if you made the excellent decision to buy one of our many trivia packs, thank you! But some folks felt that the UI was a little confusing: when you pressed the button to buy a trivia pack, all of the buy buttons dimmed, not just the one you were purchasing. As much as we’d like for you all to buy ALL of our excellent trivia packs, we don’t want to confuse you into thinking that that’s what you had done. We’d be happy if you bought them one pack at a time. Thanks for the feedback!
  • “Improvements to recovery after certain kinds of network problems during purchase”

Sometimes it seems that writing product software is all about handing the edge cases. And in this case, we found a few situations where the user experience, after certain kinds of network failures, wasn’t as good as we’d like it to be. We don’t want users to  worry about problems where, say, if you decide to purchase trivia pack (always an excellent move, by the way) and either the transaction with the Apple App Store, or the download of the content, fails for some reason. A modern connected app such as Trivially always has lots of code to deal with this situations, including things like asynchronous “watchdog” timers which fire in case network requests go unanswered.

As always: thanks for your support. Go check it out, have fun, and maybe even learn a thing or two!

Bloomberg post: CrowdGame, the iPad in a Post-PC future, and ex-Microsoft Evangelists

Take a moment to read a short post on Bloomberg’s new tech blog, reporting on a discussion CrowdGame’s Steve Cellini had with Dina Bass.
During the excellent discussion with Dina, we covered a lot of ground. Dina’s main interest was in trying to connect any dots that would help explain why developers – especially former developer advocates from Microsoft – are so strongly attracted to Apple’s mobile platform. There are a lot of reasons for this, which have been more than adequately covered elsewhere.
In this post, however, I’d like to muse about on the uniqueness of the iPad in particular and why CrowdGame found themselves building apps for the iPad.
An important aspect of the realization process for CrowdGame has been just how capable and powerful the iPad is. For example: we’ve run tests with a modified version of CrowdGame Trivially (in a special, soundproofed room, with ambulances standing by) where 50 simulated users connect to the app and play the game, with pretty good response times… on a 1st gen (single core) iPad.
Combine that kind of cpu horsepower with pretty good graphics, a reasonably-sized screen, and excellent battery life and connectivity options, and it’s easy to see why the iPad is exhibit #1 for the “post PC” era – an alternative to the PC that no one realized they even needed.
Add in a huge user base that’s been educated on how to learn about and purchase apps and related content.
To keep things interesting, provide a default browser that does a pretty good job rendering the latest HTML and CSS, giving developers who want to avoid the App Store an increasingly viable option for delivering app-like cross-platform experiences.
I’m not saying that the iPad is the only place for CrowdGame apps, but it wasn’t a bad place to start. Trivially is an interesting proof of concept for the CrowdGame technology because it’s an app whose screens are a mix of native graphics and web pages, and because the app serves up customized, dynamic web pages to as many as 11 simultaneous players.
We took this approach because we assume that sometime down the road we’ll find ourselves with alternate configurations for other tablets, smart phones, or web sites, for scenarios involving hundreds of “players”, mixed WAN/cell coverage environments, etc… we can dial-in the level of required performance or behavior along the HTML-to-native app spectrum as needed… you want an app, with some HTML on the side, or vice-versa?
With the third-generation iPad apparently just around the corner, and perhaps a another turn of the Apple TV crank posed to also happen this year, developers are definitely going to be busy in 2012.

GeekWire covers CrowdGame, and the CrowdGame Vision

GeekWire is a Seattle area tech news site with pretty broad coverage of anything “tech” in Seattle. They’ve quickly established a reputation here for their high-quality coverage and engagement in the Seattle startup community. I’ve found it worthwhile to follow their frequent posts and tweets throughout the day.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with GeekWire’s John Cook for a quick discussion of Trivially and the larger vision behind CrowdGame Technology.

You can read John’s article here: “Pub trivia with a tech twist? CrowdGame’s iPad app connects many players at once

John did a good job of describing the app itself, and possible scenarios – such as facilitating a pub quiz night (to judge from the response to Trivially to date, this does seem like a popular scenario).

We also brainstormed about how, using a feature currently in development, anyone could create custom trivia questions; for example, GeekWire could create a custom contest for its events, such as the recent (and very popular) GeekWire Game Night.

I joked to John that we’d be open to creating custom quizzes for Weddings, Bar Mitvahs, and funerals, but we do believe there is an opportunity to make it easy to author interactive quizzes, tests, or surveys, for amusement, education, or business.

I wouldn’t say, however, that we started out with the intention of transforming pub quiz night. Rather, the founding idea was inspired by these realizations:

  • Everyone is carrying around in their pockets a super-Wii controller, in the form of a smartphone
  • We all are increasingly within range of smart and connected displays of all kinds – in public places (Mall, Airport, Sports Bar), where we work or learn or otherwise meet (conferences, conference rooms, schools), and in our homes (smart TVs, Apple TV and its future incarnations, AirPlay devices, etc)
CrowdGame represents a vision and a technology to enable real time interaction between groups of people and their devices and displays, whether for fun and entertainment (such as Trivially), education, social networking, or business. We started with a trivia app because we had to start somewhere in order to learn how to build the CrowdGame Technology that can make this happen. We figured that if it’s easy enough for 11 trivia players to use, that would be a good start. It’s taken a year, but the current version of Trivially represents the state of that technology: responsive, reliable, easy for users, and highly-scalable.
We’re now looking for the next place to apply the technology… should it be another game – but this time with more ambitious performance requirements? – or a learning app, or a business app? Let us know if you have an idea about what should come next…! 🙂

“These things happen”… an instant trivia update for an in-app purchase issue

Hi folks – if you’ve tried the new CrowdGame Trivially… thank you! And if not… what are you waiting for? Install it on your iPad – it’s free! Here’s a handy link to the Apple App Store.

In the few hours since Trivially has been available, we’ve noticed a slight problem with purchased trivia packs: the purchase and download works just fine, but you may notice that if you shut down the app and restart it, it appears as if your content wasn’t purchased. Of course, that’s not the case: If you touch “buy” again, the App Store notices that you’ve already purchased it and it’s downloaded again, for free, and you can play it again. But that’s not convenient!

So we just published a trivia update, which should alleviate this problem. You’ll have to take one simple step, though!

On the Trivially “Start Game” page, you’ll notice a message scrolling along on the bottom: “Touch here for an important (and instant) trivia update!”.

Touch the screen there and the update will down load and install within seconds. Then, the next time you purchase (or “repurchase”) a topic pack, it’ll stay “purchased”.

Sorry for the hassle! This is trivia update is quick and easy to install, but we’ll also push an update to the App within a day or so.

In the meantime… have fun!

 

 

The new version of CrowdGame Trivially is now available! Try it out on your iPad!

You can download it – it’s free – from the Apple App Store here.

This app replaces the existing Trivially Console and Trivially Remote apps, which we’ll be removing from the App Store shortly.

You’ll need an iPad to play. If you also want to play with your friends, they’ll each need an iOS 4.2 device on the same WiFi network as the iPad.

Give it a spin! Have fun, and drop a line to let us know how you like it.

Making the transition from Trivially V1 to Trivially V2

This post is for those proud owners of Trivially V1 Console and Remote, which have been available in the Apple App Store since 6/30/2011 (just over 7 months now).

First, thanks for supporting CrowdGame by installing Trivially Console & Remote. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the apps! We learned a lot from your feedback and hope that you’ll find the next version – which, with any luck, will be available soon – to be a significant improvement. Thanks again!

We expect the “new” version of Trivially to be available shortly. An important thing to know about this new version is that it has significant new features and capabilities as compared to the “old” version you’ve been using… so much so that it’s been submitted to the Apple App Store as a completely new app. We felt that this was the best approach for existing users of the “old” app.

This means that you’ll be able to keep the “old” version of Trivially Console installed alongside the “new” version of Trivially, on your iPad. Here are some of the important operational differences between the two versions:

  • Players interact with the “new” and “old” versions of the app in different ways. With the “old” version, players use the “Trivially Remote” app installed on their iOS devices to interact with the “Trivially Console” app installed on their iPad. With the “new” version, only one app – “Trivially” – is needed (installed on the iPad); players interact with it via mobile web pages viewed on their iOS devices. We think that players will find it easier and faster to just browse to “joincg.com” to join a game, as compared to installing a new app. (This means that the “new” version requires all devices to be on the same WiFi network.)
  • The “new” version has a “free to play” or “freemium” model… As with the “old” version, the “new” version is free. However, the “new” app comes loaded with tons of free trivia content in 6 different trivia packs in 5 categories, but also offers loads more trivia questions in via additional trivia packs, available for convenient and instant in-app purchase. We plan to continually expand the range, depth, and topic areas of the trivia made available via in-app purchases.
  • The “new” version supports “Direct Play”: install “Trivially” on your iPad and you can instantly start playing directly on the iPad… no need to use a separate device. This is handy for when you just want to get in a contest or two by yourself.

There are many other changes, as I’m sure you’ll notice when you try it out, but as players of the first version, these are the bigger things you’ll want to have in mind.

UPDATE, 2/2/2012: Once the new version is available, it’s likely that the apps associated with the “old” version – Trivially Console and Trivially Remote – will be removed from the App Store so that we can focus on the new app moving forward.

Thanks again for your support!

 

Now, we wait…

Today we submitted for Apple’s review the new version of CrowdGame Trivially.

What happens now??

According to this site, the average review time is averaging 6 days, but you never know with these things. There might be something unusual about our app that requires more work on either side, or Apple might find something that needs fixing (hope not!).

Stay tuned for more details!

According to this site, 220 days (week days + week ends) have elapsed since the initial version of Trivially Console and Remote were submitted to the Apple App Store. Both apps were approved within 4 working days.

Thanks to all of you who have helped out along the way, in many ways and perhaps without even knowing it.

Next time, we’ll try not to go 220 days without an update 🙂

In Beta and testing away…

These things always take longer than expected, but we’re down to the last stretch here at Hyperbotic Labs, where fine CrowdGame(tm) games are laborious hewn and polished from solid blocks of freshly-mined code and at least 50% post-consumer recycled modules. We’re liking what we’re seeing, but the real test will be when it’s finally in the App Store and you get to see it and let us know what you think…

To that end, over the past months, we’ve been ramping down the process of adding new features and ramping up the process of testing every scenario and feature. Inside a modern trivia app such as CrowdGame Trivially, there are a surprising number of moving parts, some machined down to tolerances of less than a micron and whirling around at hair-raising speeds, all with the goal of providing a seamless, responsive, and enjoyable trivia experience for as many as 11 simultaneous players. All of the major pieces – trivia databases and updates, in-app purchase, native and HTML/CSS graphics, the care and feeding of avatars, HTTP networking between players, and associated cloud-based infrastructure – need to work together at speed and also gracefully handle situations such as when the user suspends the app, when the network connection fails, or an in-app purchase hiccups for some reason.

One of the especially tricky aspects of the testing regime involves “stress testing” the app when a full complement of players are joined. First, a little background…

For the previous version of Trivially (v1), we field-tested it at up to 12 players, and de-rated it down to 6 players for the production version, for reliability. For this new version of Trivially (V2), the player network has been completely redesigned around HTTP and WebSockets, for an awesome and interactive HTML/CSS/CoffeeScript (Javascript)-based remote experience. In other words, where V1 players had to install a dedicated app (“Trivially Remote”) on their iOS devices in order to participate. V2 players have it easy: they just navigate to a web page and start playing.

This web-based approach for players significantly reduces the “friction” associated with the game: it’s a lot easier to explain to the average person who just wants to play: “just hit this particular web page and you’re in”.

And the new design is much, much more robust, reliable, and responsive, so much so that we feel comfortable shipping the production version with an 11 player limit, up from the 6 player limit of the previous version. Based on our tests with a 1st generation (i.e, slower) iPad using experienced test pilots under strict supervision, we think we could go quite a bit higher (please don’t try this at home, for Pete’s sake!), but a worldwide avatar shortage has forced our hand to ship with a more pragmatic 11 player limit.

So how do you stress-test the app with 11 players? It’s pretty straightforward: you line up 11 devices, join them to a Trivially game running on an iPad, and hit “Start Game”. Ideally, you’d have a couple of helpers around to hit the buttons on the remotes before the bell rings (if you have any children at your disposal: they are especially good at this, as they tend to do things you don’t expect, which improves the test “surface area” – a good thing). During the test, we monitor the health of the app via the iPad’s iOS “console”, accessible via the Apple XCode developer tool while looking for missed answers and any other indicators of sluggish or lagging communications. We also test these mini-scenarios:

  • Hit pause on the iPad, or on a remote, while a question or answer is displayed on the iPad… do all of the remotes respond instantly?
  • Suspend or terminate the app on the iPad… how do the remotes respond, and how quickly?
  • Close the browser window on one of the remotes… does the avatar disappear immediately from the avatar “stage” on the iPad? Re-open it immediately… does the avatar recover its “session” as expected?
  • Close the browser windows on all of the remote players at the same time… in how responsive a manner are the avatars removed from the Trivially “stage” on the iPad?

For some of these tests, we’ll line up as many physical devices as we can, of as many different vintages as possible, to account for variations in processor speed and other hardware capabilities. It’s fun to watch all of those little screens changing in unison as questions are posed and answered on the Trivially screen on the iPad.

For the full-on stress test, we will often run a special form of the test using several browser instances on a Mac laptop to masquerade as multiple players; these kinds of players often interact “faster” than iOS-based ones, which ups the stress ante a bit (again, a good thing).

As part of the Beta test, we’ve been distributing test builds to friends, to get their feedback on the game and to help shake out rough edges and bugs. We send our many thanks for those folks; through their help the game has significantly improved in big and small ways. I thought it would be appropriate to end this post by sharing a photo taken by our friend Mike Swanson, who has been really helpful with his advice, feedback, and bug-detecting skills. Mike is a pretty competent iOS guy in his own right, which means that he of course maintains a stable of iOS devices at his disposal, which he thoughtfully aimed at Trivially for a little stress testing of his own. If you look carefully at his photo, I think you’ll count 8 devices. (Thanks, Mike! – love the photo!)

With any luck, this new version of CrowdGame Trivially will be available in the Apple App Store very soon, and you’ll get to give it a spin… and let us know what you think!

 

 

Please pardon the retrofit…

… we are rejiggering crowdgame.com. The site is a hosted WordPress site, and we’re changing the theme, in anticipation of the next version of CrowdGame Trivially. Believe it or not, the old theme didn’t support mobile browsers. Yup. So we’re switching to something new, and will be evaluating it especially against that criteria: how good does it look on a phone, or iPad?.

Having a mobile-optimized site will be especially important for the new version, as hinted in this post. More on that later!

In the meantime, our apologies as the site changes around in real-time; hopefully it will start trending positive in the doesn’t-suck-on-a-phone metric.

The next version – CrowdGame Trivially – is nearing Beta…

We’ve learned a lot from your feedback and experiences with CrowdGame Trivially Console and Remote… thanks for your support and engagement.

Since these first versions of these apps became available in the Apple App Store in June, our crack dev team (me 🙂 have been heads-down coding, more or less re-writing the game and infrastructure, with the initial goals of making a couple of improvements to the networking, support the ability for “direct play” – where you can play in single-user mode directly on the iPad, a feature which really should have been part of V1 – and add the ability to sell trivia content packs from within the app.

As these things tend to go, “one thing lead to another”, and this is what we have:

New approach to connecting players with the Trivially app running on the iPad

Players now fire up their mobile browsers (currently, iOS only) and connect via http to a web server that’s integrated as part of the Trivially app on the iPad. There is no need for a second Trivially Remote app any longer. This should significantly reduce the initial confusion and “friction” that we saw as users realized that two apps were needed to play the V1 version of the game.

Now, only a single app – now called CrowdGame Trivially – is needed, on the iPad, and anyone with an iOS device on the same WiFi network can simply open a web page and join the game. This approach is radically simpler from a development perspective (no need to simultaneously maintain and submit two apps to the App Store), and the resulting end-user experience is excellent (says me): the web page used by players is built with HTML5 and CSS3 technologies… the fact that it’s a web page won’t matter to players as they see how responsive and complete the user experience is.

A key technology used here is “Web Sockets”, which allows long-lasting, low-latency, two-way communication directly beween the javascript on the remote player’s page and the Trivially app running on the iPad. And this approach should also, in time, allow for support for non-iOS devices as well, offering the same, rich experience for any player with a smart phone on the same wifi network as the Trivially app.

If you’ve followed me this far on this, you may have realized that this new version does not support Bluetooth-based play, as V1 did; if players want to join in, each player needs an iOS device that’s connected to the local WiFi network. This rules out a scenario that we though important for V1: the “family in the cabin in the mountains” scenario, where there may not be a WiFi infrastructure, but with the Bluetooth support in V1, you could still play. However, we found the Bluetooth infrastructure – either Apple’s hardware or software, or Appcelerator’s encapsulation of it, or our use of it, to be extremely buggy, unreliable, and slow. I spent a lot of developer and tester cycles trying to work around issues that would only materialize on the device (i.e., not in the simulator), and which seemed to have no workarounds… especially the fact that WiFi and Bluetooth don’t seem to like each other (we’ve seen a lot of networked games that advice players to turn off Bluetooth if Wifi is on, and vice-versa, advice which we strongly urged Trivially V1 players). In the end, given our limited developer cycles (me!) and the urge to simplify the way remote players participated in the experience, we decided to give HTTP over WiFi a try. And so far, we love it.

To ensure maximum performance and responsiveness, the web server in the Trivially app runs in its own thread. While Trivially V1 was rated as supporting up to 6 players, I’ve tested this new version with many more than that number, and I expect that the production version will be rated at 11 remote players. The iPad is a powerful device, and the modern networking and OS capabilities make the most of it. It’s been fun exploring this part of the mobile device world, and it holds great promise for the CrowdGame pattern: multi-user, multi-display, real-time experiences.

Full in-app purchase capability of premium trivia content

We experimented with marketing and supply/demand with V1: when we temporarily dropped the price to $0, we saw a ton of traffic. We’re not the only ones to notice this dynamic. So V2, as mentioned in a previous post, will take a “freemium” approach.

The app itself will be free and will include a sizable number of trivia questions in 5 categories (sports, history, literature, science, geography). But within the app you’ll see that additional content topic packs will be listed (mostly for $.99); if you click on one, the iTunes content purchase process will kick in, asking you to confirm that you want to buy the topic pack and perhaps asking you to enter your iTunes password… after which, the topic pack will download and install in the background. All of this happens from within the app and takes just a few seconds; the new content then shows up as another topic for you to select from, just like the content that was included for free. In time, we’ll be working to create lots of interesting, diverse, and challenging topic packs for you to spend your money on! 🙂

Direct Play

It’s quite natural to want to play just by yourself with the Trivially app on the iPad… and it was quite frustrating to watch people try to do exactly that with V1, knowing how close that feature (“Direct pPay”) came to making it into V1.

(“Agile” developers will tell you that you need to make hard choices if you’re going to ship on time, and unfortunately, it’s clear that Direct Play really should have made it into V1. My intention was to add it was quickly as possible soon after V1, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, it’s there now: when you fire up the new version of Trivially on your iPad, you can immediately hit “Start Game” (after choosing some topics, of course) and directly answer each question. Meanwhile, remote players can always join in. If there’s a mix of remote players and a Direct Player, the Direct Player has “priority”, meaning: as soon as the Direct Player touches the screen (answers a question), that round is over (and the answer is revealed). Makes sense, yes? Since everyone can see you touching the screen…?

Complete new look and feel

This was a lot of fun (and a lot of work)… While V1 had a kinda austere look to it (which a lot of people liked, actually), I felt that if Trivially was to distinguish itself (there are, after all, a lot of trivia apps out there), it had to look “more different”. But different in which way, and *how* different, anyway?

Well, you’ll have to see for yourself (become a beta tester, or visit this site later). The basic game play hasn’t changed, nor has the meme of a “stage performance”, but with the generous help of a Seattle illustrator, we think we achieved our goal. More on this later. Hope you like it!

A related big (and last-minute) change in this area regards the Question/Answer page: the text of the question is displayed at the top, and four possible/plausible answers displayed below. In V1, the question/answer text was rendered in a Courier font, which has the advantage of being a monospace font. This was important because all questions/answers were preprocessed before loading into the app to ensure that when rendered on the screen, there wouldn’t be any ugly line-breaks and that the maximum optimal font size would be used. The downside to this approach is that Courier isn’t a particularly good looking or readable font, and there aren’t many other monospaced fonts out there, either. So, for this new version of Trivially, we’re using a web-based view for the question/answer page, which allows the use of modern HTML/CSS techniques for rendering text, which in turn opens up lots of possibilities when it comes to choice of font. The Trivially beta uses “Helvetica Neue, Condensed Bold” (thanks, Mike, for the suggestion!); we’ll see how that works and adjust accordingly. It’s much, much more readable and just all around nicer as well.

Along with these top-line features and changes come a countless number of other less notable but still important fixes, features, improvements, and optimizations. We’ll list a few of these as we wind through the beta and production release process.

– Steve