The Settlers Online
Studio: Ubisoft Blue Byte
The Settlers Online is a hugely successful strategic browser-based city building game. In its lifetime, TSO's revenues have already exceeded the franchise's previous six boxed titles combined. The Settlers Online has won a total of 5 MMO of the Year awards, putting it amongst the best Browser MMOs of all time.
I worked The Settlers Online for around four months when I joined Ubisoft Blue Byte before moving on to Anno Online. In this time, I re-designed several components with a view of increasing usability and designed various new features and systems from scratch.
One of my favourite and most interesting features I worked on was probably the trade system. Perhaps unusually for this type of game, The Settlers Online uses a barter system, meaning that the player can trade any (amount of) resources for any other (amount of) resources.
This trade system is interesting in many ways, and certain types of players turned out to focus a lot of their play time in the trade and found enjoyment in optimising their economy through this. Different player types specialised in producing different types of resources and then traded these using the barter system.
One way the game takes advantage of this is by making certain gameplay-relevant resources available through play only, while making other (cosmetic) items exclusive to premium currency. What we found was that the trade system allowed non-paying (time-rich) players to have access to these desirable premium items, while paying (often time-poor) players were able to access the more 'grindy' currency by purchasing the desirable items multiple times.
I re-worked and simplified the way the player sets up and lists a trade; the player determines the type of resource and quantity to offer and receive step by step.
The player is allowed to list up to 4 lots of the deal they set up simultaneously, more are monetised (used by 'power sellers').
There were some initial problems with the way the trade system worked, including difficulties setting up a trade, sorting through existing listings and the fact that sellers needed to confirm a buyer's offer (meaning buyers had to put up with unnecessary delays). I re-worked and streamlined the system for both sellers and buyers.
I simplified and improved the way the player can search and sort items for sale. Got an abundance of pinewood planks (or indeed a lack)? See what other useful resources are on offer.