Category : Culture

Treasure Quest

Fun, Flash and Festivity: Tagged Winter Game Jam

Most games take months or years to develop. During a recent Game Jam, our Games Team made four fully functioning games in 24 hours.

At Tagged, Game Jams feel reminiscent of music jam sessions, where friends gather for hours on end to rock out and tap into their creative side. Sub out the guitars for computers and rockers for coders and you’ve got a feel for our vibe.

Over the course of 24 hours, our game designers, artists, programmers and producers develop at an extremely fast pace in order to create several playable versions of concepts generated by the team. Game Jams provide a great opportunity to step out of our usual roles during production and skip right to the heart of creating something for other people to enjoy. It’s also a great chance for people to create with co-workers outside of their regular teams.

This Game Jam, specifically, helped us focus on how we can best prototype for Flash. Our team recently decided to use Flash for our next few games as we found it to perform better when stressing animation, audio and customizable art assets. Due to the nature of how technologies like HTML5 load bitmaps and animation-data, we’re better off using vectors with flash instead of developing a new loading pipeline for bitmap. This is important as Tagged serves a number of users across many browsers and connection speeds, and a poor loading pipeline can severely impact both the first-time experience and the game as a whole.

We established a few goals at the beginning of the Jam in order to make it both extremely fun and productive. Our goals for this Game Jam were:

  1. What techniques and tools can we use to be most efficient in Flash development?
  2. What game concept should be developed for our next Tagged game?
  3. Team building!

Laying out the games

At 5 p.m. we gathered in our main meeting room where our assignments were revealed. The next 24 hours were intense. Early success came when one of our groups had a playable game in only a couple of hours. Two of the teams were working with the Flixel library in order to skip most of the basic game loop coding. Most of the groups pushed on through the night with small celebrations by the teams as each part of their games started to function.

Working hard

By 10 p.m. everyone had hit their stride and were coding their respective games.

Our productivity held strong through the early morning hours, but we grew more tired and silly as the morning went on. We recharged with pizza at 4 a.m., and pushed through the morning. Final tweaks and polish were added during the last few hours, and teams took their hands off their keyboards when the Jam ended at 5 p.m. the next day.

We still had to celebrate though! So in classic Tagged fashion, we brought in some beers, played some games, and reflected on the past 24 hours of insane productivity in a debrief.

The results were incredible! By the time we ended, we had four fully functional games: a paper prototype, a two-player game, a networked multiplayer game and a game that was running in flash and on the iPhone! We learned most of us made design decisions based on what could be coded quickly, not necessarily what would be the most impressive feature. Having this clear vision of ‘do it quick or not at all’ really allowed the teams to make playable games with many features in a short amount of time. All of these were solid prototypes that will be played and studied over the next few weeks to find the next best game to release to our users on Tagged.

Game discussion

At the end, not only do we have some awesome new games to play, but we also learned more about how each member of our team works and how insanely fast we can make games. We also all grew closer through sharing this intense, exhausting, and fun experience together. We’ll definitely be doing another Game Jam next quarter and will be sure to report back!

Above screen capture is of “Treasure Quest”.

Auston Montville is a Junior Game Designer at Tagged and loves chatting about games.

hackathon logo summer 2011

Tagged’s 2nd Hackathon: Summer Edition

A few weeks back, Tagged kicked off its second overnight Hackathon, complete with caffeinated beverages and a midnight In-N-Out Burger delivery. Our Hackathon invites anyone and everyone from Tagged to tap his or her inner hacker to build an overnight project that is exciting, useful or just plain fun. Having more than doubled our staff and office space since our last hackathon, there was major buildup for this event so we couldn’t wait to see what our teams would come up with.

The Tagged Hackathon started at 6 p.m., right after our usual dinner was served. Everyone ran down and gathered into our new (and expanded) office meeting room to pitch their ideas and recruit a team. More than 20 different projects were formed, and off the teams went to begin spec’ing and coding.

There was a range of projects, which included:

  • SimpleQL, creating an easy-to-use SQL query generator
  • A drawing board for our Tagged mobile app
  • Two-Factor Authentication, offering a way to completely secure access to an account
  • Tagged Connections, a visualization of friend connections occurring around the world

At midnight, In-N-Out Burger was rolled in and served for all.

The energy continued well beyond our midnight snack with every team aiming to create a working prototype by morning. For those that made it through the night, breakfast burritos, fruit, and other healthy breakfast items rolled in at 6 a.m. Special Tagged Hackathon t-shirts were also given along with permission to leave work for the day.

A week later, the entire company voted on winners in three categories: Product Innovation , Overall Awesomeness, Technological Achievement. In product innovation, “Awesome Pet Run” won as a new way for players to play on of our most popular games Pets. Overall awesomeness was awarded to “Clickable Interests/Orbits”, which created a new way for discovering users via common interests and made search results more dynamic and interactive to encourage new connections via ‘Orbits’. The Technological achievement award was won by our Director of Engineer, Diego Matute. Diego explains the project below:

One important theme with our users is that they care about their account and have a lot invested; both emotionally and economically. The two-factor authentication project highlighted a very secure and easy way for users to protect their accounts from phishing, keyboard logging and spoofing. Instead of entering an email/password combo, the user proves two things: 1/ have something (their phone), 2/ know something (their pin). It works a lot like a debit card at an ATM. Secureness is achieved by using OAuth as the user/service provider protocol and an iPhone app to securely store tokens. A simple enrollment process also makes it easy for users to opt into this feature and benefit immediately from secure access.

We witnessed some stellar Hackathon results and were blown away by the creativity of our participants. We’re excited to implement many of the projects into Tagged!

Check out our Hackathon video too:


Allen Intern

A Day in the Life at Tagged (Intern-style!)

My Tagged Story

As an intern on the Mobile Web team, I helped develop and launch Tagged’s first BlackBerry app. My typical work day involves creating features and products for Tagged’s mobile division – and I’m also sure to set aside some time during and after work to battle my co-workers in  Starcraft, chess or whatever new board game someone brought in.

At Tagged, every intern is assigned a mentor who provides projects and ongoing career guidance. The large pool of talented mentors is a critical part of the internship program’s success. The quality of my internship has been substantially increased by my mentor, Mark Kater, who gives me the right balance of direction and freedom to help me excel at my work. Being new to the company and new to mobile development – and being shy by nature – having a mentor by my side has been immensely helpful in my growth and development. Beyond my immediate mentor, everyone at Tagged is hugely helpful and friendly – it’s as if those qualities are required to work at the company!

Working on Mobile

My work on the Tagged BlackBerry app was definitely one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on at Tagged. From research to development to deployment, my favorite part of this process researching and experimenting with different app solutions. One big surprise for me was how many steps it took to actually set up and deploy the app on BlackBerry. Deploying the app required an array of resources, including legal documentation and icons.

As part of the Mobile team, many of my tasks have been about porting features from Desktop Web to Mobile Web (e.g., user registration, status updates, etc.) or fixing bugs that involve varying amounts of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Tagged’s Mobile Web is being developed with a progressive enhancement strategy in order to ensure support for lower-end devices so we haven’t gotten around to introducing JavaScript yet. This means that porting over a feature from Desktop Web usually involves thinking about how it can be adapted to function in an environment without AJAX, lightbox overlays or any other similar luxuries that we may be accustomed to. Despite the fact that our Mobile site has a limited feature set compared to our Desktop Web version, mobile daily page views have soared to nearly 15 million.

Interns are also tasked with giving an end-of-term presentation to the entire company about a topic of their choosing. Presentation topics cover a wide spectrum, including math, technology and culture. The presentations provide a great opportunity for interns to showcase their interests and talents to the broader team.

Every day I’m excited to come into Tagged and work with my teammates to launch new features on Mobile Web. You know you’re at a great place when it doesn’t even feel like work!

Allen Dam is an intern on the Mobile Team at Tagged and you can follow him on Twitter.

Collection, Analysis and Response to User Feedback

Here at Tagged, one of our core values is ‘Users are #1’.  Earlier this year, we ran our inaugural ‘Pulse of Tagged Users’ survey to give our users the opportunity to rate our strengths and weaknesses and we received thousands of responses!  This survey contained 20 questions and a free text field for general feedback (which almost 40% of respondents filled out).  We’d like to thank all the participants for taking the time to share this feedback- we plan to use this information to identify what we’re doing right, address areas of concern and improve your overall Tagged experience.

While most companies collect user feedback, what really matters is how they interpret that data and use it to implement real changes. So how do we do it at Tagged and what new features are coming up? Read on.

As this was our first attempt at gathering direct input from such a large collection of users, we were challenged to slice the data by meaningful, manageable methods.  To optimize the usefulness of this data, it was necessary to analyze the raw information and create a more tangible expression of quality.  We used satisfaction scores to assign more nuanced value for responses to the basic multi-choice questions, which allowed us to determine the overall reaction to each issue.

user satisfaction stats graph

To find common themes in the free text feedback, we performed some simple semantic analysis (via the open-source TextSTAT tool) on all of the responses to extrapolate a list of high-frequency terms and recurring themes.

User Feedback – Recurring Themes

  • want chat/IMs
  • inconsistent review standards
  • message disorganization/wrong order/hard to search and manage efficiently
  • slow CS response times, little/no response to inquiries
  • incorrect friend counts
  • need better mobile access
  • more profile customization (music widgets, video player, etc.) and personal/professional info
  • fake/junk profiles, often used for cyberbullying and Pets gaming
  • more privacy config options (photos, journals, limit contact from countries, interested in, genders, etc.)
  • photo albums/management/mobile uploads
  • pet run/delay ‘slowness’
  • more VIP levels, payment options (mobile, international, etc.) besides Credit/PayPal
  • security/hacking/phishing/viruses/malware (from widgets/ads?)
  • custom contact/communication settings (user-defined ages, countries, relationship statuses, etc. who can contact them)
  • gold offers not working/contain viruses/malware
  • bulk management of high traffic features (comments, tags, friend requests, winks)
  • more language support / user-contributed localization
  • better 1-to-1 contact w/ friends (view all comments/messages/tags, better friends list mgmt: custom groups, display name typeahead)
  • increase the types of filters in MM to help meet interests more accurate

We’ve also added many items to our Q2 development roadmap to address many of the issues that were identified in the responses.  Here’s a list of the major issues we plan to tackle in the upcoming weeks:

Tagged’s Development Roadmap

  • Increase CS staff to handle volume more efficiently
  • Improve reviewer accuracy/CS response quality by creating better tools, more useful training processes and internal auditing processes
  • Fully secured registration and login processes (https, SSL protocols)
  • Security checks at login; account verification via security questions, SMS
  • Create a risk model for identifying phished accounts
  • Redo messages caching to fix message ordering issues
  • Fix friend counts for all users to display the correct number
  • Deploy Topics to all users
  • Complete general Tagged mobile web site
  • Continue upgrading and synchronizing iPhone/Android apps
  • Add a new internally-created game
  • Implement Paypal/Pets fraud monitoring
  • Upgrade reviewer training processes and internal auditing tools
  • Create a real-time push platform for mobile notifications and IM

We’re planning to run another ‘Pulse of Tagged Users’ survey in Q3 and we believe that we’ve addressed many user concerns with the aforementioned roadmap items.  I expect us to earn higher marks in the areas where we scored poorly this time around and hope we can continue to provide you with an even better Tagged experience in the future.

As the resident Community Manager (and general internet addict), I often hear users lament that their input isn’t valued or solicited from the site operators.  It’s my goal to provide Tagged users with an environment where they can be heard and easily contribute to the continued development of a site they value.  Whether it’s through this ‘Pulse’ survey, Tagged Ideas or other mechanisms, I want to facilitate communication between our development team and all of our users so that we can continue to build an amazing site that you’ll enjoy.

We’ve already made several improvements in response to your feedback (Tagged Mobile Web, iPhone/Android apps, game additions, What’s New likes and comments, notifications, etc.) and we have many more changes planned for the future.  Most importantly, I hope this emphatically proves that we are, in fact, listening!'

Matt Savage

I am the Community Manager for Tagged. It's my job to engage our users and direct feedback to our development team so we can continue making great improvements to the site!

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