Rank, Social Rating, and Loyalty

With the recent reset of the currency (it was always intended – prior to the reset it was just testing – and with the market place now added, it was time) a few new things showed up in Voodoo Chat that have left some people a bit puzzled.   The two most visible things are Rank and Social Rating.   I’ll start off by talking about the Social Rating which, despite having no direct effect on chatting, has already begun stirring up chatters’ obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Social Rating is a simple number that can be positive or negative, and which gives people who encounter you for the first time a bit of an idea of how personable you’re likely to be.   Your Social Rating is based on the number of in-chat friends you have, but is decreased by the number of people who have blocked you, and by the number of people who have refused your friend requests in the past.

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Social Ratings are displayed on the chatter list panels in every chat room, just below the sex indicator.   Positive numbers are pro-social, negative numbers are anti-social.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that Social Rating is a perfect predictor of how well you’ll get along with someone, it just gives you a bit of an idea of how they’ve been getting along with other chatters in the past.   This number will be displayed on friend requests as well, to help people decide on whether to accept or reject requests from people they don’t know.

The other new addition is Rank, which is a progressively increasing status number for chat accounts based on a user’s participation.  A second, not yet easily seen number called “loyalty” is also a key aspect of the Rank system.   As you take part in the chat currency system by converting room currency to global currency, or buying/earning titles and account upgrades with global currency, you will gain loyalty points.   When those points reach a certain level you gain in Rank.   It is a one-way process – you never lose loyalty or decrease in Rank.

What does Rank do?   Rank gives you small, but permanent, account upgrades.   As soon as you earn your first Rank (which takes 1 loyalty point, meaning the second you do anything that earns loyalty, you gain your first Rank) you go from being able to be in one room at a time, to being able to be in two rooms at the same time.    Every 10 ranks after that you add one more room to your potential.   Rooms in which you are an admin don’t count against this, meaning that you can be in your own room, and two more, if your maximum rooms is two.    Additionally, each Rank increases the amount of Bronze you can convert room currency into, per day, by 1 permanently.

Humble beginnings, yes… but we plan to attach all sorts of interesting things to the Rank system to reward regular chatters, and the Rank system encourages chatters to take part in room currency systems, which makes them more likely to take part in your activities if you are a room owner.     As always, it’s all optional!  If you don’t like this kind of thing, just chat the way you always would and ignore it.

 

What Good is Room Currency?

Since Voodoo Chat has two types of currency, a global currency for all of Voodoo, and room-specific currency issued by room owners, several people have asked what use room currency has.   The general consensus among users was that global currency would be the “real” currency, and room currency would just be play tokens or the like.    The discussion got me to thinking of ways that room currency could be given a use beyond simple user exchange, such that even if room owners don’t create real uses for their room’s currency, it might find some real use anyway.

At its basic level room currency is just a tool room owners can use to promote user interaction in their room.  With the API system they have the potential to hook up their outside scripts with their room’s currency system letting them give users in-room currency for things like posting to their site’s forums, or playing their site’s games, etc.   They can also use the currency on their own sites for things like buying virtual site goods or account upgrades, or whatever else someone can think of.   Not all room owners will want to get that involved in using currency, however.   Rooms are more likely to issue currency than consume it which is why people assume it will just be play tokens for the most part.

Since the global currencies (Voodoo Gold, Silver, and Bronze) will be directly usable for purchasing chat titles and account upgrades it has inherent use to regular users of any Voodoo Chat room.    Likewise you can trade global currency to anyone in chat without the fan requirement associated with room currencies.   In that way the global currency is the glue that binds rooms together – it is (potentially, anyway) something that can be of common interest to users regardless of the room or community they happen to be part of, and acts as a “universal language” between chatters from different interest groups.

So, after a bit of thinking I settled on the idea of currency conversion – the potential to convert some room currency into global currency – to “upgrade” so to speak, an amount of limited use currency to a more general use currency, such that the activities that earn you local currency to the room you chat in can actually get you system-wide benefits.    No doubt you you can see a bunch of problems with such an idea immediately… don’t worry, I did too.   There’s more to it than that.

The big conceptual issues with automatically issued currency like room currencies can be, or currencies which can be issued without limit (which room currencies also can be) is inflation.  The more of a currency people have, the less meaning it has, and the more it takes for people to care about it…  if everyone has a billion of a currency then offering them 10 more is laughable… but if everyone only has 50, then 10 is a big deal.    The more of a currency floating around, the less value it has.     This becomes an issue with any currency that is created faster than it is consumed because eventually, the total amount of it will increase enough to cause some level of inflation.    Worse, if you can automatically convert a currency to another, then the other currency will suffer inflation along with the first.    In english, if you were able to convert your room currency into global currency at a 1:1 rate, you’d basically be able to issue global currency!   Plus, as you issued more of it, the global currency would mean less and less.

So how do we deal with that?   Two easy ways, really.   First, you limit the amount of conversion possible, and you adjust the conversion rate according to the currency being converted.   Lets get right to the specifics of the conversion system we’ll be using, and I’ll elaborate on how it deals with those problems afterward.

The local to global conversion will let people convert popular room currencies to Voodoo Bronze, but limit them to creating 100 Bronze per day per user.   To qualify for converting a minimum number of people must possess some amount of the room currency (say, 50 people) and the conversion rate will be 1:1 or 1% of the median amount of the room currency people have… whichever is higher.   Does that sound complicated?   It’s not, really, and most of it will be done by the program, so users will just see that they can trade in X amount of the room currency to get Bronze, and how much Bronze they can convert that day.

How does this system deal with the problems I mentioned?  Well, first we limit converting to actually active currencies – ones that people are actually collecting and/or trading among themselves.   Then, to prevent the unlimited issuing of global currency we limit the amount of global currency someone can create each day to 100.   Nomatter how much of the room currency there is, theres a hard limit to how much effect it can have on bronze each day.   Finally, we make the exchange rate based on the room currency’s own inflation rates.   The more room currency a room issues, the higher the cost to convert it into Bronze.    It makes the inflation rate of the global currency independent of any room’s own inflation rates.

It’s possible none of this made any sense to you.  If that’s the case then don’t sweat it – when everything associated with the Voodoo Chat currency system is in place it should be quite intuitive.   The summary is that room currency is going to gain the potential to have a real effect on your in-chat experience in the same ways the global currency does, and room currency will be more than a squeaky rubber toy.    One of the many benefits of open discussion!

Chat Currency enters Beta

Chat currency is finally here… sort’v!  The currency system is now in place, allowing room owners to create their own room-specific chat currency, and allowing users to trade currencies between them using the new trade window.   There is also a new API system that allows room owners to integrate their in-room currency with their off-chat website scripts to automatically give or take their room’s currency to users, or to query for an account balance.

Now, let me preface this by saying that the currency system is still “beta”, and all currency records will be DELETED when beta is finished.  This is to allow people to mess around with the currency system, and allow for errors in the system that might incorrectly delete or duplicate currency (which would be a problem in the long term!) before anyone uses the currency for any serious purposes.   So, feel free to give out, trade, or whatever.

So… what is “Chat Currency” exactly?  Well, it’s a sort of virtual money that you can get in chat, and use to trade with other chatters or potentially use outside of chat if the page decides to integrate outside services with their in-chat currency.   Voodoo itself has a currency that you’ll be able to use to buy titles and account upgrades, as well as trade with other users or (if a room allows for it) purchase room currency with, and so on.

To create a room currency for your room, you simply go into the Page App for your page and set an image and a name for your room’s currency.   Once you’ve done that you can open a trade window with any user that is a fan of your page, and give them any amount of your room’s currency.   Your room’s currency will appear on your list of currencies and it’ll show that you have infinity of it (a tiny infinity symbol).

It’s important to note that only page fans (people who have “liked” your facebook page) can traffic in your room’s currency.  It is impossible to give your room’s currency to people who are not fans of your page, to prevent people from being loaded up with useless currency they don’t want, and to prevent “fraud”, since more than one room could have the same name and image for their currency.  If you open a trade window with another user, only currencies that they are able to accept will appear in your possible selections list.

Official Voodoo currency (the global currency) appears on red panels in currency lists.  If you’re trading in a room, the room’s own currency appears in a bronze panel.  All other currencies appear in grey panels.   This way you will be able to tell the difference between the current room’s currency and other currencies of the same name, as well as the difference between the official currencies, and any people may create with the same name (and try to trick you with!).    We opted to do this instead of requiring that you trade in a room’s currency only when you’re in that room.

To make a trade with someone, you open their user menu and select “Trade”.   You’ll get the initial trade screen which has the currencies you currently have, and your offer.   Click any currency and type an amount into the amount box, then click “Add” to add it to your offer.   Once you’ve finished creating your offer, you click “Make Offer”.    At this point it will switch to the trading screen, which shows what you offer and what they offer.   Once both of you have finished your offers, you can click “Accept Trade” to confirm that you want to make that trade.   When both of you have accepted, the actual currency changes hands.   Accepting an offer locks you into it, but that acceptance is removed if either of you alter your offer in any way.

Now, some of this may sound complicated, but it really isn’t – you should be able to get the hang of it quite quickly!

More on Chat Currency

Lately the feature we’ve been focusing on developing is the in-chat currency system.   To a lot of people this sounds like a “microtransaction” thing, and while that will be a possibility, the real focus of in-chat currency is to provide chatters with something they can trade with one another as part of the social experience.   If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll know that we’re also going to allow each room to “mint” its own room-specific currency to do with as they please.

As the currency idea has been fleshed out, there have been several conceptual snags that have forced us to reall wrack out brains for decent solutions.   From past experience with in-chat currency on the old version of Voodoo Chat, we know that chatters tend to take their currency pretty seriously, and because of that it is important to checks and balances, and security of some sort to minimize the amount of abuse people heap on one another.   No doubt the idea that chatters will abuse, cheat, and swindle one another is socking to some… but it’s a safe bet that if there exists a way to screw someone, someone else is eager to find it.

We mentioned before one of the security-related restrictions we planned on having was that in order to gain a room currency you need to have Liked the associated Facebook page.   This may seem like a strange concept, but when you frame it with the fact that FB pages need not have unique names or images, and that room currency names don’t need to be unique, and you start to see where abuse can sneak in – people could create an exact duplicate of a room and currency, and pass it off as “counterfeit” versions of a room’s currency, assuming the real currency becomes popular.   It is unlikely anyone will jump into a fake, duplicate room and then click Like on that page, meaning that such a scenario will be nearly impossible with that limitation.

With the potential for a near-infinite number of different currencies in this new system we also decided a “trade” system was required, much like you would find in your average MMO.   As cynical as it may sound, the (admittedly sarcastic) old adage “good fences make good neighbors” is very true on the internet:  the less trust you need to invest in other people the happier everybody ends up being.   The trade system will let people trade various types of currency from their own virtual wallet with other users for that other user’s types of currency, or nothing at all if they’re just giving things away, requiring both users to confirm it once all changes are completed.

Another more recent thing we’ve decided on is that trades will have to be done while in a room, and all trades will have to involve that room’s currency on one side or the other (or just the voodoo global currency), as an added layer of security against people trying to trick one another into accepting counterfeit versions of a currency.

From the room owner’s perspective,  another thing we’ve been working on is a very simple HTTP based system to allow room owners to give, remove, or check balances on their own room’s currency in relation with a specific user, based on the user’s in-chat user number.    This will allow rooms to have automatic currency-related actions on external sites.   An example might be rewarding users on your own external forums with in-chat currency, or to let them spend that in-chat currency on your own website’s features or games.

As stated above, this is what we’re currently working on.. hopefully we’ll start to see the first parts of this system in place in the next few weeks.

For users of the old Voodoo Chat, once the base currency system is put in place, the ability to move your old resources over (and names) will become available, too.

Background Music Added

Rooms can now specify either an MP3 file to loop, or a Shoutcast URL to stream, as background music.  This requires the user choose to enable music while in your room – you cannot force a user to listen to the music automatically due to the security issues associated with forcing users to make connections to 3rd party systems.

The background music setting replaces the Custom Content URL setting that we were working on.   We determined that most room administrators would have difficulty understanding and dealing with the Flash security sandbox issues surrounding the use of custom images and flash movies as room backgrounds – issues that are not a major concern when it comes to simple audio playback.    Hopefully at some point we will offer some easy and effective visual options, but for now audio should be working properly.

If you are a room owner, and you want to make use of this new feature, you should go into your Administrator Control Panel (via the Page App on your FB page) and enter the full URL to either the MP3 file or the Shoutcast server you want to stream the music from… including the leading http:// – if it is a shoutcast server the URL should end with the port number for your server stream (no trailing slashes or anything else).   Once you have set the URL and it has been accepted, you can enter your room (you’ll have to leave it and re-enter it if you’re already in it) and then clicking on the room’s background will bring up the room menu, which will now include an “Enable Music” option.  That will turn the music on, and a “Disable Music” option in the same menu will turn it off…. as will exiting the room or playing music in another room.

We will likely add in some form of volume and play control to the UI in the coming weeks.  For now, enjoy the music!

 

Admin Control Panel – First Functions

The Administrator Control Panel in our current development area, and the very first administrator room setting is now available to experiment with for all room owners.   Additional settings and page functions will be available soon, giving room owners better control, and more interesting options to give their chatters a superior chatting experience.

As you may have read in our previous blog posting, room-specific titles are one of the things we’re working on.   The first room-specific title option, the “Fan Title” for your users who have Liked your associated facebook page, is now available to be set.  This means you can select the text of the title, and set the graphic, to be whatever you want… any chatter that uses the default “Chatter” title in your room will instead display your custom room title, when in your room, if they have Liked your facebook page.

You may notice the Custom Background Content area of the settings is there too.  This will allow you to set a custom URL to a graphic or SWF file, to use as your room’s background.  The client-side implementation of this is not yet in place, so you won’t see any results from this, but we’re leaving the option available so that when we do implement the client-side portion, you can be ready.

The three administration tabs/pages other than settings are not yet available.  These should be available in the next week or two – certainly the ability to remove administrators or existing user penalties will be in place soon.  Customized room titles other than the Fan title, will likely the the last to be implemented as we still haven’t decided how to display the selection for these to your users.

Room Features in Development – Titles and Currency

One of the big things that we’re working on for Voodoo Chat is extended customization for individual rooms – specifically, the ability to have room-specific titles, and a room-specific currency.

If you’re a regular user of Voodoo Chat, you know all about titles – they’re what determines the small image and the text on your chatter list panel, and they’re normally awarded on special holidays.  The titles of that sort are “global titles” which means they can be worn in any room on Voodoo Chat.   One of the exciting features we’re working on is the ability to create a limited number of “Room Titles”, where room owners can define the image and text, and can grant them to the chatters in their room as they see fit.   These room titles will be usable only in that specific room – if a user wearing the title goes into a different room, the title will revert back to the standard “Chatter” title that every user has.

Quite soon (sooner than the rest of these plans, that is) the “Chatter” title will actually change for chatters who have “Liked” a given room, becoming a “<room name> VIP” title, with the room’s icon as the title image.   This will help differentiate the fans of a facebook page from people who are just browsing.   In time, it is likely the image and text for the fan title will be something that can be customized by the page owner.

One of the main reasons the Voodoo Chat in-chat currency system has been delayed, is that we are making a much more (internally) complex currency system that will allow room owners to create their very own currency for their room.   Room owners will be able to give their currency a name, and an icon, and be able to create as much or as little of the currency as they see fit.   In addition, an HTTP based API will later be available to room owners to allow for site integration of the currency system (automatic creation, removal, and querying of the room currency, using HTTP requests) so that you can automatically give your chatters your room’s currency in response to things they do outside of chat.

The more advanced currency system will also require a “trading” system to allow users to exchange different types of currency.

One limit we expect to have on the room currency system is that only fans of a room’s FB page will be able to own that room’s currency – if you’re not a page’s fan, you won’t be able to receive the room’s currency from your actions or by way of trade.   This is primarily to protect against users being tricked into giving away their currency for “fake” currency – this is to say, since Facebook allows more than one page to have the name name and category, it would be possible for users to duplicate a given page and name that page’s currency the same as the real page’s currency.  If the real page’s currency were something in demand, they would, in essence, be counterfeiting it, visually.    By restricting access to a currency to page fans, this would not be an issue, as the fake page would not be Liked by the same people, and thus, the fake page’s currency would not be something that could be traded to them.

Hopefully these additions will help create a deeper and more involved social experience for each room’s chatters and fans, which is, at the end of the day, the whole point of Voodoo Chat!