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Magic Online Development Update

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The letter P!lease forgive my absence from the boards over the past month. WotC has made an increased resource commitment to Magic Online, and our management team has been working hard to bring in more people into technical positions in the newly formed Magic Online Studio. I certainly owe the community an update on the feature development that we are pursuing outside of the scheduled card set releases.

Redemption – We are actively working on a redemption solution that is targeted to be available when we would turn on Shards of Alara redemption. We have all the development resources in place that we need to complete this work in time to turn redemption on for Shards and for all the other redeemable sets in mid November. The redemption process will differ from the old 2.5 process, but the user experience should be improved if anything. The user will simply order 1 to n redemption requests through the store, pay for shipping, and if the system can remove the cards from the user's collection, the request will be fulfilled to the shipping address in the order. Users won't be directly removing the cards from their collection as part of the order, as this could potentially affect system performance at peak times. The requests will be processed in bulk during our maintenance periods. We are still working out how the shipping fees will be applied. We will cover the whole process in detail well before Redemption is reactivated.

Collection Server – The collection server is suffering from high turnover on our server dev team. We are working to hire more software developers that will be needed to work on the collection server and leagues. I can't give an ETA for the collection server until we staff up the server dev team with critical dev resources. A lot of requirements and design work has been done. We now need more devs onboard to implement. The developers that we have in place are working on smaller scope items on our list of system deficiencies. Currently this includes improvements in the performance of match starts, and re-tooling of the process that launches Game Servers. Both of these issues directly affect usability, and will allow the system to perform better under load.

Leagues – Same story here regarding dev resources. We are structuring the MOL studio to have the capacity to work on two major features at a time. Once we staff up the dev teams, I hope to pursue the collection server and leagues concurrently. I don't have an ETA for leagues. They will not be implemented in 2008 at this point. Q1 2009 can be ruled out as well. The Production team (which isn't just me anymore) is on the hook to have a complete dev plan, including rough schedules, in place for leagues before the end of the year.

Client Navigation and Usability – Short term, Adriana's team is working hard to update the client skins in October. The new skins look great to me; Less is more texture and color-wise. Mind you, we are only talking about skins here. Re-skinning is going to be nice, but isn't a solution for our primary usability issues. We are very close to having final prototypes for significant changes to the main navigation and scenes in the client. This will include a redesign of the deck-building and deck editor scenes, the trading interface, and the chats. Adriana's approach to this has been very professional and by-the-book. The prototypes represent simple, solid and professional UI, based on input from users of all cross sections. Watching Adriana's team work has been refreshing, and has made our previous UI design attempts look very amateurish. We will get screenshots of the prototypes in front of the community soon.

Unlike the server application projects, we do have the developers that we need in place to implement the client usability updates. This work will be the focus for the feature team that we have assembled for the rest of the year and beyond. I will have a more accurate ETA for the major UI changes after we get our hands on the completed prototypes.

The dev teams in the studio will be split into infrastructure, content development (card sets) and application teams in the new studio model. The infrastructure and content development teams are in place, minus an eCom developer. We have enough of our first app team assembled to get busy on the client usability improvement work. The content team continues to do great work, and to deliver on schedule. Interested software developers should check for job postings here. There has been an initial focus on filling the positions that are required to support a larger software development team, and also on a critical Visual Designer position on Adriana's team. Those recruiting efforts have gone well, and the focus will now move to the development positions.

Thanks as always for your patience and interest. I hope the community enjoys Shards of Alara.

Gordon Culp
Director – Magic Online Studio
Wizard of the Coast

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