My first interviewee was Gordon Culp, whom you may or may not know. Gordon is the guy behind the scenes technical direction of Magic Digital, and its various incarnations. Be it our beloved MTGO, Duels of the Planeswalkers or the new MTG Tactics, Gordon's hands are sure to be close by. I was fortunate enough to nab some of his time to talk about how things are going, the directions we're headed and more! I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Gordon for his time and his very candid answers. Thank you Gordon!
Erik Friborg: What do you do, and how would you define your job?
Gordon Culp: I’m the studio director for Magic the Gathering Digital these days.It’s now part of the executive team.I’m now responsible for operations of the studio and reports and status.
EF: You said MTG Digital, not MTG "V3", was that intentional?
GC: Yes. It’s the new name of our organization, it essentially changed when we became responsible for Duels of the Planeswalkers.
EF: Which brings us to Tactics, is that in your group as well?
GC: It is to a certain extent, there’s not a lot work going on from our studio production group.
EF: Improvements, they seem to be smoother now than when we first launched?
GC: Sure, I mean.Acclimated.The big thing that changed after Conflux is that we made a concerted effort to split the content and functional changes during each release.This required some internal discipline to make happen.After we did this, things improved greatly.
EF: Did Gleemax going away impact the MTGO resources?
GC: Gleemax didn’t impact it very much.We didn’t have the production resources in those days, even in V2.5 as we do now.Back in 2.5 days there was really only one producer for the entire project.
EF: Roadmap: Any changes from the last update from Worth?
GC: Our plan for 2010 pretty much matches what I last gave Worth. We're focusing on the client re-design which has its own relatively small team. Also getting the collection server built, tested and implemented.
EF: Organized Play, MOPRs, how do they interact with your goals and timelines?
GC: Worth’s team has a list of things to get added and we work them into the release schedule when we can tackle these things.The easiest ones that we have to get through are the ones that require less work on the client.
EF: Thoughts about the success of the Rewards program?
GC: I’m an interested observer.It’s great to reward people for their playing on MTGO.
EF: Classifieds issues... anything short term?
GC: No one likes how they work right now.It’s not a trivial fix to our system.It’s not rocket surgery, but it’s one of the things that has to be balanced against everything else we’re trying to accomplish.Right now we’re still keeping up with user growth and staying ahead on that.I think a preferred solution, something we can do quickly, would be to filter buddies to the top.That would be probably doable client side, and I would love to see some feedback.
EF: Top 8’s, crashing:
GC: It’s another issue with the escrow system.It interacts in the worst of ways. All it’s doing is giving 8 people packs, or sending 24 packs to a draft server.But it’s prone to colliding with other digital object transfers that are going on.So I’m working on the team to get that fixed before the holidays and that’s still a possibility.
EF: Huge turnout, server issues, edge of what we can handle?
GC: It’s not directly correlated to the number of users on the system, but what our users are doing.Lag spikes are server requests that get queued and create a big traffic jam behind them.So logging in waiting for the collection to load, gets added to the queue. This issue came down to, Tuesday night being our last one, was due to our trade collection updates.Around September we started getting DB warnings about that.Something in the size or amount of the process tipped on Tuesday.It’s a challenge for us to balance.We have a big, big effort in on improving our internal load testing.
EF: API’s, unofficial clients:
GC: We talk about it a lot, an API is not something that is off the table.Our approach is to build our system that it cannot be hurt by an unofficial client.I’m still confident that a reverse engineered client cannot hurt our system.Particularly it cannot corrupt or hurt other people’s digital objects.The behavior of anyone else’s code is always a concern in terms of load and activities.
EF: Prize splits were removed from V3, any news:
GC: Splits were not in the specs for V3.I believe it was a call between Worth and Scott Larabee.They are not trivial to implement at this point.They are not on a to-do list right now.
EF: Legacy sets, any changes:
GC: No changes, everything is still on schedule.
EF: Do they impact the new deployment schedule?
GC: Legacy sets don’t slow down split deployments, but they do reduce the amounts of weeks we have to deploy non-card fixes.
EF: Do MTGO funds go to other things, like Gleemax used to?
GC: We aren’t funding starved at all, our constraints are increasing our capabilities more than our funding.We’re well supported from Wizards of the Coast and from Hasbro.
EF: Is there more scrutiny after Gleemax?
GC: I imagine there was, but I haven’t seen anything.Success is a great remedy.
EF: Anything to add?
GC: I do read the forums, I enjoy the passionate members.I also enjoy the criticisms, we have a lot of smart people on the forums and they have a lot of passion for our programs.
GC: The only other thing I would like to say is that we are never satisfied with where we are with MTGO. The rate of progress really is increasing, and I think we're seeing things improve faster and faster.
I would once again like to thank Gordon for taking time out to discuss these things with me.