Before you start reading, please understand that most of this post is me sitting in front of a computer and spitballing ideas. Its hard to consider cost of implementation or the ripple effects it would have on certain parts of the game. This is meant to be the start of the discussion, nothing more. Please keep that in mind.
One of the things I would like to see improved in the app more than anything is the way trading is viewed. Not necessarily the interface or the technical side of putting cards in the little window (although there are ways that can be improved too), but the way the apps views trading and how it actually takes place.
There are four specific parts of this equation, all of which are equally important in the improvement of a user’s experience within the app. The first is solicitation, which includes stuff like articles and the feed, how people actually look and initiate trades. The second is identifying users, or functionality based around profiles and stuff like that. Third is communication, both user to user and app to user. The fourth is feedback, or the way trades can memorialized in some fashion based on user experience.
I think its time to discuss all of these things, and how much impact they have on a regular basis.
Part 1 – Solicitation
Right now, the fan feed is still as much the wild west as anything. So many people do all of their trading through the feed, that they feel the need to spend the majority of their time posting requests and looking for deals. Dont get me wrong, the feed can be fun at times, but other times its about as frustrating as anything in any of the apps.
The main issue is that the feed renders users faceless in a lot of ways, instead letting their post speak for who they are. Because the refresh is moment to moment, people post over and over and over again, knowing that their request wont be seen unless they continually offer it 10 times a minute.
Not only does this likely put a lot of stress on the servers, but it probably adds a considerable barrier to entry for a new user. Unless you truly understand how to use the feed, you really dont have the same advantage as someone who does. Similarly, screwing up and doing it wrong can get you a lot of nasty feedback.
The worst part about the feed is that it is all text and no functionality. That means that users WRITE what they want instead of using a system to indicate wants vs haves. Im curious if switching the feed to a running “Who is Online” forum where people can go and see a list of people who are online at the moment, and let users set their outgoing message as a profile element, rather than a text post that is uploaded with each available refresh.
Similarly, being able to see which cards up front people WANT to get rid of, and what they are looking for, might help new users to onboard, while at the same time give existing users a lot of ease of use in making offers. Want to find out who owns the new Vintage or Sig, and what they want? Profiles should show who is online and who has what to offer.
Blind trading is even more complicated, mainly because you dont know what the users have in their collection other than a collection score and trader rating displayed in the populated list. If needs and wants were more visible, a blind trade menu could easily indicate who has the card, who is offering the card as a have, and who is willing to accept blind offers. Hopefully this would again cut down on that guessing game people have to play.
Part 2 – Identifying Users
Finding a trade partner right now is beyond difficult, mainly because of how users are represented through the solicitation part of the process. No one, and I mean NO ONE understands collection score or force score. Although they know that higher is better, not knowing what contributes to it makes it a significantly less valuable as an indicator. We do know it is a live indication of your collection versus that of the rest of the app, but it is more confusing than it is helpful for 99.9% of users who visit the apps. New users even more so.
At some point, the apps need to find a way that better indicates collection strength in a more accessible format. Instead of a scoring mechanism that no one gets, a more transparent indicator of someone’s app career should be better. Here are some bottom line indicators that we should probably consider on a weighted scale:
- Time in the app (based on join date)
- Amount of daily check ins
- Number of cards in collection
- Average card count of cards in collection
- Quality of cards in collection
- Number of completed trades
- Trader rating given by other users
- Gameplay results (if available)
This might sound like a lot of different indicators, but it will be more valuable to a trading experience to seek out those that rank high versus those that rank low. It might also be able to showcase in blind trades what the likelihood the person will respond.
At the very least, it is worth mentioning that competition drives a lot of the people in the app to do what they do. Whether its competing over the best collection, the best score in a contest, or completing a set, its the driving characteristic in a lot of ways. If the numbers are transparent and visible, this should help to increase a user’s engagement.
Part 3 – Communication
Ill start with user to user, as it is the one part of the apps that is why many people are as invested as they are. Without user to user communication, these apps would be 1/4th as successful, if that.
Because of this situation, Topps needs to invest resources to make their communication system as robust as possible. Its going to be time consuming, but entirely worth it to ensure that each user feels a part of the community. Community breeds competition, which, as mentioned above is the main derivative of the app.
Lets start with the basics. Because no messaging interface exists, users have built workarounds to communicate with each other privately, and that needs to change. There needs to be a direct way to message individual users, either on a live basis, or through a private message system. Sending a trade for the same card with a message is both clunky and weird, especially because there is no available notification system. Ill get to the “app to user” communications in a second, but forcing users to go this direction may have worked fine in 2013, but there needs to be a better system in the future.
In terms of the way the app communicates with us, notifications are only present for new cards, accepted trades and new packs. Obviously this is important, but adding options to let users customize their notifications are essential. If someone sends a counter offer to my trade, I would like to be able to potentially receive an alert. If someone sends me a message, same thing.
Here are my suggestions to customized notifications, that users can toggle on and off:
- Incoming Trades
- Counter offers
- New Message
- Message replies
- Declined trades
I cant count the number of times that I have missed out on a trade or missed a message because I just didnt check my inbox. That should never happen if the user actually wants the notifications to come through. If they dont, they can turn them off.
Lastly, I would make some improvements to the friend list that shows when a friend’s trade or message is received. Right now, friends lists dont give preferential treatment in the inbox, and I would like that to change.
Part 4 – Feedback
As it stands, trader feedback on all apps is not a good representation of the quality of the trader themselves. Because of the way the app is set up, a person can pretty much game this system, if not only because they know how to exploit the way they interact with other users.
Because millions of trades happen every year in the apps, storing that much text feedback would be insane. I get that. That being said, there has to be a better way of separating the starred ratings to ensure that the counts actually mean something. The suggestions below are put together under the auspices that these will be used correctly and not for bullying or abuse. Of course, that is in the hands of moderators, so maybe that should be part of this as well.
A way to do this would to only count ratings on accepted offers, ensuring that people who sit back and field offers from the feed without risk dont get the advantage of not sending their own offers.
Another way would be to allow users to add comments that are sent to the user on low rated trades. Instead of completely anonymous trader ratings, make that anonymity optional. As long as this doesnt get abusive, it can help users to understand why something went the way it did as a learning experience. If a user doesnt want to send a comment, they dont have to.
Lastly, flagging scammers needs to be a very big part of any improvement to the system. There needs to be a way to better avoid scammers in a public way, especially if you already have them on ignore. Its become too common for people to take advantage of others without punitive penalty if found to be doing something against TOS. Like many of the other suggestions in this section, moderators will need to be a big part of this, as investigations will be in scope.
Overall, I just want to see more of a world class trading system that mirrors the advanced functionality of the rest of the app. Over the 5 years these apps have been around, the one part of the game that has only had minor changes is trading, and I would like to see more of an investment in improving the most important and fun aspect of the games.