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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Gleemax *But Were Afraid to Ask
editorial
game: Gleemax
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Wizards of the Coast
developer: Wizards of the Coast Digital Initiative
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date posted: 03:18 PM Thu Sep 6th, 2007
last revision: 03:17 PM Thu Sep 6th, 2007



Click to read.Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Gleemax *

*But Were Afraid to Ask


The meeting room is housed in the rear of booth 634, through a door easy to miss unless you are looking directly at it. It is enclosed by particleboard walls that are predictably decorated, on the outside, with the company logo "Wizards of the Coast" and their many products. But inside is startlingly base, lit by the flicker of a laptop screensaver and a single, off white bulb that looks like it was wired in a hurry. "Don't worry about the computer right now," says Mr. Wollpert, looking eager. "Ilja will be in later to run you through Gleemax."

Even though the room is small, it snugly fits a Porter Novelli (PR) representative with a clipboard, Worth Wollpert, Brand Manager for Wizards, my wife, and myself around a metal table. I am here to talk about Magic Online, or so I think. Mr. Wollpert tells me, quickly, about Magic the Gathering Online Version 3.0 (tenderly referred to as "V3") but we quickly discover that there is little new to say about a service that has been in development for nearly four years, other than attack the basics, as the Porter Novelli rep glanced at us from time to time inbetween her note taking.

"The big question on everyone's mind," begins Mr. Wollpert without my having to initiate, as though he'd said this to hundreds of people during the three day Penny-Arcade Expo in downtown Seattle, "is 'when will it be done?'"

When Magic the Gathering Online launched in June 2002, many of my friends who played the table top "real" version decided to go electronic, while I held the fort of the real at my local comic store each Friday. The program, which is currently in it's second-and-a-half version, is based on the ideology of utility over aesthetic. You won't find anything beyond the simple chat-room interface, 2d tables with 2d avatars sitting, facing each other, and the functional Magic GUI.

It's bland, it's basic, but it's effective.

It has become a mainstay for Magic players who have outgrown the comic store scene, or have families and children and still want to play, still want to carry on their hobby. As Magic Online's player base has aged, so has Wizard of the Coast's target goals.

"Well, the only answer I can really give," he then says, "is 'when it's ready.'" It is as if we have prematurely reached the end of our discussion. But then Mr. Wollpert continues, "The next time we say this is it, we need to be on the money." He then becomes candid about V2.5s shortcomings. He said that there are technical problems: the system crashes when there are too many users logged in; it's not a question of will it crash, it's a question of when. And then the program bugs out sometimes and there are tech crews working to figure the problems out for the next release. Magic Online players will recognize these problems. Take heart that they're all being addressed in V3. V2.5 is a big leap forward from the first iteration, obviously, with some minor cosmetic enhancements to make the menus easier on the eyes. But overall, there are persistent problems.

It's V3 we're all waiting for. Then the server maximum will safely increase from 4400 people without crashing, when gamers will have live customer support and an in-game store front, when scalability meets reliability, when utility meets aesthetic. Magic the Gathering Online players are counting the days until the release, but because there's no release date yet (not officially, anyway), should they be?


Tomorrow Magic Online, today the world. Today: Gleemax.

The door opens and Ilja Rotelli, lead designer for the Wizards of the Coast's Digital Initiative, generously shakes my hand and takes Mr. Wollpert's seat. Mr. Rotelli is in charge of all things Gleemax, he tells us and goes on to give us a lowdown.

"What did you do," I say. "Lock everyone in a room until they came up with an idea?"

"Essentially, we did," he says, laughing. "We locked the best guys in a room for three days and came up with Digital Games." Rotelli is pale, wears a short, receding crop and a gentle smile. He disrupts the laptop's screen-saver and I watch him load up a presentation - "I'll skip over the tedious parts," he says.

"This is our general target gamer," says Rotelli, showing a white male, age 18 to 24, jeans and a tee shirt. There are two types of gamers, says Rotelli. The first is the die-hard Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons player. He's been gaming forever, since the beginning. He loves strategy and being challenged; he loves rules and rulebooks. He's never going to stop gaming and he's never going to leave us.

"This guy's a lifer. We owe everything to this guy."

"The problem," Rotelli says, "is the new generation." This second type is young, eager, and not terribly interested in table-topping. The "new generation" includes those that grew up with the internet, with technology, and are involved with it in every aspect of their lives. For these gamers, the impact of real table-topping and is not necessarily lessened, but not as attractive as the online experience. Gleemax, a blisteringly ambitious community project, will attempt to bridge the gap between type one and two, between the lifer and the new blood, says a smiling Rotelli. It will bring together role-playing gamers, strategy gamers, and, hopefully, everyone in between.

For some, it will become a one-stop-shop.

You can blog, synchronize your calendar with upcoming local tournaments and events, meet other gamers with similar interests as you. Game retailers will be able to keep blogs of up and coming events, Wizards of the Coast developers will be able to speak directly to the community, and you, at the center of it all, will be able to read the blogs and posts you want, filter out the ones you don't, and be a part of this very real, digital community for gamers. It's a service built and maintained by Wizards of the Coast's Digital Initiative, but is not solely for Wizards of the Coast products. It's a service inclusive for all games.

Think of Gleemax as "MySpace" for gamers, only more.

And all types of gamers too. It might begin with Magic the Gathering Online, but where it ends is anyone's guess. Avalon Hill board games (including the very popular Axis and Allies series) are being examined for their portability online, the long overdue Dungeons & Dragons table top game online (and its very flexible system which Rotelli then demonstrated; launching May 4, 2008) will be functional through Gleemax, pen-and-paper online games like the new Uncivilized: The Goblin Game which Rotelli described as "Fantasy football for hobby gamers" are looking to get their heyday.

Gleemax will host everything from Vegas Showdown to Hecatomb. And with such a massive company as Wizards of the Coast (owned by Hasbro) at the helm, this only means good things, very good things, for gamers.

"Next is the Editorial Voice," says Rotelli, changing the powerpoint slide. "That means we stop talking amongst ourselves and we start talking to everyone else." You might feel that game companies are soulless, metal, production cubes. But Wizards of the Coast is listening to their customers. On top of the features outlined, Rotelli assures me there are more being considered, including an auction house for items.

If you are familiar with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network (and to a lesser extent, the Wii Channel) then you will be familiar with the Indie Game Portal, where Digital Games is looking to go above and beyond the mainstream mass market appeal. Here they house many games (such as the marvelous "N") by talented independent developers as a sort of hand-picked selection, and are still scouting the internet for more.

Cost of each game and the more specific items is still in negotiation, but the basic Gleemax service (profile, friends, blogs, event calendars, etc) will be free. The indie games are rumored to be able to be purchased once for a minimal fee, while Uncivilized: the Goblin Game, for example, will be pay by "instance." An instance, Rotelli clarifies, lasts until the game concludes and one goblin faction wins. Some gamers will be satisfied with a single instance of the game (that means checking in on your goblins every day or so to see what they've accomplished) but more dedicated players can pay for multiple instances.

The board games section will probably feature a nominal monthly fee and access to hundreds of board games, and the D & D section (which includes book content, character and dungeon creation) will be handled through D&D insider, but unified through Gleemax. Rotelli shrugged the awkward talk of money off and moved on to the next few slides.

Unification is what Gleemax does, not only through games but between them. And between gamers of different types. If the heart of the service is flexibility, then the Commerce System is bending over backwards for gamers. Gleemax will feature a marketplace wherein anything can be traded. Anything. You want your friend's Magic card but he only wants your D&D miniature: trade. With Gleemax, this sort of bizarre deal can happen, just like in real life. Trading between games, item for item, card for item, etcetera, is part of its appeal, and has never been done before.

With the Public Alpha already going on and the Public Beta scheduled for November 07, Rotelli is expecting the fully functional Gleemax to go online February 2008. But they're taking their time, making the best service possible, listening to fans on forums and giving gamers what they want. "Gleemax needs to be born out of the minds of the players," says Rotelli, wrapping up the presentation. It needs to be born out of not only the hardcore, lifer, but the new, up and coming internet gamer.

We shake hands with Rotelli again, this time it is my wife and I who are smiling, as if we'd been dazed by some wonderful drug. Indie Portal? Trading between all games? Dungeon & Dragons Online, Magic Online, and hundreds of other games in one place, under one gamer community?

We are lead out of the small room with the computer and among the roar of television screens across the convention floor. We thank them all, and watch as two other journalists, one carrying a large video camera, are greeted by the same Porter Novelli representative, and ushered in the small room where Gleemax awaits them too.

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