Saturday, August 18, 2007

Interview w/ Damien Blond of King's Cribbage Online

I recently met with the creator of the online version of King’s Cribbage, Damien Blond. Over cheeseburgers and lots of talk about the possibilities of future online games, I was struck by DB’s energy and quick mind.

A few weeks later I sent him the following questions about how his experience creating a really great online version of a fun game. If you have never played King’s Cribbage you now can try it our for free at www.kingscribbageonline.com.

Enjoy the interview, and feel free to leave comments or email me if you have additional questions for myself or DB.


Cribbaholics Unanimous: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, how you became interested in cribbage and how the idea of an
electronic version of Kings Cribbage came about.

Damien Blond: My name is Damien Blond. I grew up in Canada and moved to the States with my family when I was 14. I returned to Canada to get my B.Sci in Computer Science at the University of Calgary. Following that, I came back to the States for work. I've been working as a Software Engineer in San Diego for 7 years.

I have always been extremely competitive and played cribbage with my family since I was very young. I remember playing my own versions of it in high school with buddies, like reverse cribbage and cribbage with jokers, etc. Also my dad and I were extremely competitive; we used to keep track of yearly long cribbage series.

I knew I wanted to program computer games since I was about 6 years old, which is when I started. So far, my career has let me get very close to accomplishing that dream--I'm just not quite there yet!

I got the idea to program an electronic version of Kings Cribbage because my family and I played constantly. As my sister and I got older and moved across Canada and the US, there was no way for us to play long distance as a family. I searched for online versions of Kings Cribbage, but none existed. I decided to create a simple online version just for my family and I to play and we had a great time! We had so much fun that I proposed formally launching a public online version to Roy Cowley of Cococo Games, which is the company that owns Kings Cribbage. Roy and I hit it off almost immediately; Cococo Games has been extremely helpful. The rest is history!

CU: Since you recently got married and also have a fulltime job, when
do you have time for programming, let alone playing the game?

DB: Yeah, that's a tough one! Let's just say my new wife, although extremely supportive, grows a little tired of my non-stop programming and discussion of Kings Cribbage throughout our evenings and weekends. I have learned how to balance and budget my time a little better so that I don't get stretched too thin. Of course, I still find the time to play the occasional online game because I love the game so much!

CU: Talk a little about the process of creating the KCO and of its
ongoing evolution.

DB: Original versions of this game were very plain: no features, no users, only 2 player games, no watching games allowed, no lounge, no chat, few sound effects and so on. In fact, if you submitted a move in the original version of the game and it did not add up correctly, the game would make a loud beeping noise, and a small pop-up would tell you "your move is invalid" which was very annoying to everyone. Thus automatic score-keeping and the notepad were born.

Obviously these were not the only features I added. The game has dramatically improved over the past year, based on the on-going feedback from the game's users. Some of these features include: user login and personalized settings, user statistics and ratings, skunks, online tutorials for new players, tile racks, a featured "Player of the Month," and so much more. There are also many new features I have planned! I get very excited every time I add a new feature to the game and appreciate any ideas my users have for new features.

CU: What were some of the challenges involved in building the online community?

DB: Building a regular user-base from scratch is always a challenge. Roy Cowley was a tremendous help; he emailed everyone that had ever purchased the board game online to alert them of the new online version. This brought us in nearly 100 consistent users, 20 of which are the game's current "core" users who play multiple times a day. Since then, the community is growing via web searches, word of mouth, and networking with other cribbage communities online.

CU: How many members of KCO are there currently and how many do you
foresee joining in the future?

DB: The site officially launched March 3rd , and we currently have 600 users in the community. There are about 60 avid users who play games at least every other day.

At the current rate of growth, I expect over a thousand users by the end of the year, and at least 100 players that play daily.

When we start adding more games beyond just Kings Cribbage to the online community, I expect this number will jump dramatically.

CU: What aspect of KCO are you most proud of?

DB: Bringing a new game to life from scratch, and having users really appreciate my efforts. I have gotten a lot of feedback from families stating that KC Online brings them together and gives them an outlet to hang out and chat, despite being far away from each other. Since that is the original reason I designed this game--to allow me and my family to play despite the hundreds of miles between us--hearing that other families come together to play excites me the most.

CU: I've seen a lot of online games where anyone can log on and play
against a computer. So far KCO is still a game where you are playing
an actual person, or not at all. Was this intentional and will that
change in the future?

DB: Hopefully! The only reason I haven't added a computer opponent into KC Online is that I haven't had enough free time to do so. Developing a computer opponent entails developing Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is a serious undertaking. It's easy to make a dummy AI player making random low-scoring moves, and never actually being a viable threat--where's the intelligence in that?

Designing an intermediate skilled AI computer player would take almost a month of full-time dedicated work, while an advanced almost unbeatable opponent would take closer to 2-3 months. I hope to do this one day, but it's just not realistic for the immediate future until I can totally focus on it.

CU: What is the average number of games played by KCO members and how often do most players log on?

DB: "Golfgal" is our player with the most games ever played, having played nearly one thousand games since March. Our most frequent users log on every day, averaging over 7 games daily. The average user has played about 1 game per day since they found the site. Approximately 7,000 total games have been played since our March debut. A typical game takes between 20-40 minutes to play, depending on the timer setting the players select for that game. Currently the peak hours of KC Online are between 8pm EST and 11pm EST; there are usually about 10-20 users logged in at that time, which is a figure that is growing weekly.

CU: What are some future changes you'd like to see for KCO?

DB: The next major feature I am going to add is a "speed game," which is a game in which turns will only last 30 seconds. So far, our players are excited about that. Also, we are going to be starting up a 64 player tournament soon, complete with prizes for the top-scorers. I have received a lot of positive feedback about tournaments, and it looks like we finally have the user base to support it.

Other features coming are:
An ability to pause the game.
A message forum will be added.
Sortable statistics will be added to the website instead of just available in the game.
And eventually computer opponents!

CU: Talk about other plans for the future; other games you might be working on?

DB: My long term dream/vision is to be able to work on expanding this gaming community as my full-time job. I am very excited to bring other addictive games to my current gaming community to support. My plan is to start with other cribbage variants since our current core user base consists of cribbage addicts.

Examples of these upcoming games could include:
Crash Cribbage
Crib Wars
and more!

Following that, I hope to add other strategy and board games outside of the cribbage genre.


CU: Comments and questions are welcome! Would you like to see other cribbage notable personalities interviewed on this site? Make a suggestion!