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Dec 09

Dec 09

Development Diary: Building Communities on PS4

Stephen Yong's Avatar Posted by Director, PSN Software Engineering

It took a community to build Communities for PS4.

Clan support on a console sounds easy enough to do, but consider… it’s never been done before, and maybe for good reasons. It’s big. It’s messy. It impacts everything. It’s not easy. That’s why building Communities for PS4 appealed to Khoi Do, a senior engineer on the PlayStation Network team. “I actually switched teams because of this feature,” says Do. “There were a lot of question marks. I was a little worried, but that made it fun.”

PSN Social Features

Do leads the Gambit scrum development team at Sony Network Entertainment International (SNEI), the division behind the PS4 user interface and PSN. Gambit’s team covers PS4 social features, so Communities was destined to fall squarely on them. But there was no way they could do it alone.

Communities, released in PS4 System Software 3.00, came out of a hackathon coding competition presentation by designer Dominic Graziano, together with engineers Daryl Nelson and Zack Argyle, and the idea was simple enough: make it quick and easy to connect and play with other people who share your interests. Looking for a party? Want to raid? A Community gives you a direct line to the players you need.

Right there, you’re talking about tapping into the PSN Friends list, Party, What’s New, Who’s Playing, Messages, and Notifications — components overseen by multiple teams. All that still doesn’t get you to the front door in terms of data management or feature interface.

“We worked with Tokyo for all the game-session information,” says Do. On the domestic side, Graziano started drawing up a UI while another scrum team, Cerebro, made the Community wall possible. Even with all those people already committed, it didn’t take long before Do realized delivering his Day 1 requirements depended on recruiting a third social-features team.

PSN Social Features

“I knew about it from the hackathon,” says Nick Hunter, head of the Stark scrum team. “It’s always been a feature with big aspirations.” Now it depended on his availability.

SNEI puts all its teams from around the world into one big room four times a year, and that’s where the next development cycle solidifies… after a certain amount of haggling, juggling, rearranging, and reality checks. Hunter went through all those stages, then made the call. Stark was in. “We need to get this out there,” he remembers thinking. “There’s a clear need, and there are so many benefits to having it on-platform, using real data about who’s on, who’s playing.” Stark took that on.

Then engineers settled in to do what engineers love to do: solve problems. “We are an open-source shop,” says Do. “We do a lot of valuation of whether this technology fits this problem. Then you have to get it to work.”

That meant leveraging cloud-hosted services to scale fast across availability zones, Cassandra database management to store and retrieve every post, message, invitation, and join, and Apache Tomcat open-source web server to deploy APIs. Meanwhile, the Stark team built shared components to bring all-important Now Playing and What’s New features in line with Communities’ needs. When complications came up, Do and Hunter made the 30-foot walk to each other’s desk to get it sorted out.

But they couldn’t depend on existing systems for everything. Customization, in the form of images and wallpaper, was one of the bigger asks. That tool had to be built, and the data pull had to be practical.

“This is the first time we’ve hosted user-image uploads on this scale,” says Do. They quickly latched on to edge-based content delivery networks to store all those images and uploads “closer” to the Community itself. That knocked latency issues down from an expensive fetch to the blink of an eye.

PSN Social Features

All told, “We spun up five new services for Communities,” says Do. Then everyone sat back, had a beer, and watched it go live at midnight with a code push, wondering if anyone would notice.

Since communities launched, millions of PlayStation players have joined at least 400,000 communities.

“You hope that your features get to that level of engagement,” says Hunter. “It was awesome.”

And it’s not done yet. Now that Communities is live, the Gambit team is going right back into planning for Day 2 features. The team is listening to user feedback and considering a number of features including search. “The size of my Friends list has grown,” he says. “I’m meeting more people. I’m using the platform more. It was fun to develop, and it’s fun to use.”

Now he wants to make it even better… with a little help from his friends.

Add Your Own

HypnoticMonkey said:

December 9th, 7:08 am

The communities are awesome but please (please!) add a direct reply functionality to them. It’s frustrating having to create a new comment on a community when replying to somebody and just hoping they’ll see it.

    cusman said:

    December 9th, 8:10 am

    Agreed

    Skater_Ricky said:

    December 9th, 9:22 am

    I agree as well. Pressing Options on the Controller when your highlighting there message in the Community should give you a option to “Send a Direct Message” option.

    Astroking112 said:

    December 9th, 1:58 pm

    We should be able to vote up/down comments and write a reply directly beneath them. It would help cut out bad content and give people a more involved way to go down through the comments.

    Also, how about an option to save attachments from the messages? I always have to take a screenshot from any pictures I like, so a more direct way would be nice (Side note: the tendency of the black bar that pops up on images whenever you don’t move is annoying. It should only pop up when you move, not the other way around).

lele1620 said:

December 9th, 7:09 am

You say it took a community to build Communities for PS4. But nobody figured it needed a search option cause the list of communities is gonna get big and a lot of scrolling with no search option to shorten that time is gonna be a irritating problem sooner than later..
Update add a search box ????!!!!

Rammstone said:

December 9th, 7:10 am

Where is tuesday’s store update?

    killerlightning said:

    December 9th, 7:19 am

    They are scared to post after the shady Tales of Borderlands further sale that they put as a holiday sale. So, I feel they will never post it.

    ShadowStar83x said:

    December 9th, 7:35 am

    It’s updated. Someone just fell asleep before posting it.

Nakqz said:

December 9th, 7:12 am

Hi (from France),

it’s very interesting to read about your development process (agile SCRUM methodology, free and open-source software you use …). We understand how you work and how you are able to build and ship a new feature to the Playstation community, and that’s pretty cool.

I hope you will continue to share with us more about your development process and success fin the future.

PS: If I was able to add a post-it on your SCRUM cardwall, I will add the “Two factor authentication” on it with the highest priority ;)

AwRy108 said:

December 9th, 7:15 am

The “Communities” area of the PS4 is awesome! However, I feel that it would benefit from one additional feature: the ability to directly reply to someone’s post. Currently, all we see is a massive wall of posts with no way to glean any conversational context from them.

Keep up the great work!

stetsonaw said:

December 9th, 7:19 am

Please add Communities to the mobile apps!

    cusman said:

    December 9th, 8:11 am

    Yup

FifthDream said:

December 9th, 7:37 am

Desperately needs a search function. Nothing can be found except by scrolling through these 100 “trending” communities, and what your friends joined. They’re pretty useless as they are. A search function would improve them 10,000%.

    rottenfruityum said:

    December 9th, 3:57 pm

    Just search within the game community itself not overall, like go to secret ponchos game and search within the community itself if anything. Some games show 48 communities available but you can’t see them cause there not trending you can only find them by stumbling upon it on someones profile.

Diegoagdias said:

December 9th, 7:46 am

Sony does something that really matters its members!!!
Are horrible games of plus and resources you are bringing.
It makes a marketing who has “Signature plus” can play the game on ps3 with CD on ps4.
God’s sake do something!

    Dethfuse said:

    December 9th, 8:24 am

    Do you even English?

    Kalmnir said:

    December 9th, 11:05 am

    What did I just read??

mcksalg said:

December 9th, 7:50 am

We def need a search and a reply to post.

Crunchewy said:

December 9th, 7:56 am

Having to type messages with a controller makes this worthless, not even considering the lack of search and such.

    cusman said:

    December 9th, 8:12 am

    They need some kind of voice to text feature

    Pvp101insession said:

    December 9th, 8:14 am

    You do know that bluetooth enabled keyboards work on the PS4 don’t you…

FADEDMIRAGE said:

December 9th, 8:01 am

still no playstation store update posted?

SpooNManX said:

December 9th, 8:04 am

Man, what is going on with the PSN Blog?!

There are no store updates, tons of unmoderated SPAM messages all over the place with URLs, (which early required authorization by ???).

And the PSN web store is STILL down.

Hacked again or??

Welmosca said:

December 9th, 8:14 am

Gotta say communities was a pretty nice idea…the best part is to share pics with people and see the funny things that happened with them.

paulogy said:

December 9th, 8:25 am

Is there a way to manage my Community affiliation via the web?

Also, is there a way to combine communities? One that I am in exceeded the 10k user limit and created a “sequel” community. It would be nice if they could be combined somehow.

nanaki85 said:

December 9th, 8:31 am

Community search function, please?

SmokeAdellic said:

December 9th, 8:47 am

Yeah all communities need now is a search function and a better comment organization… Also it would be cool if we could share videos/gifs on there and in messages as well.

big_bob002 said:

December 9th, 8:53 am

Seems like this may be related. With the friends app I organized my friends list on my ps4. I put people I know and play with regularly into one group and randoms in another group. I viewed it as a way to organize and quickly see who is online in a given group.

However it gives notifications for what I am doing and people can remove themselves from a group. Seems like more of a social thing than a personal organizer of sorts. Is there any chance of setting the groups to private/ no group message option?

Skater_Ricky said:

December 9th, 9:18 am

I want to manage my Community via the PlayStation App. I like to send updated News to my Community where ever I am at. I’m not always behind my PlayStation 4.

I want to be able to Send Pictures, Text, Voice Messages, and even URL’s to my Community. I can do all above features in a Group Chaton the PS4 and from the PlayStation App but not in a Community. Please add these features to Communities on the PlayStation App

Also if you add these features to the PlayStation App make sure to have a option in the setting’s of the App to turn ON and OFF notifications from Communities.

Also it would be nice to only receive notifications from only a Community you want notifications from. For example I manage a “Star Wars Battlefront News” Community and I prefer to only receive notifications from only that Community.

Y2David said:

December 9th, 9:19 am

yes the Communities are a great help and do look forward to an update..

My top requests would be a better Search feature, able to xfer ownership, a sub-reply feature to comments made in the wall, being able to add links to the header, MotD or even on comments area in the wall be nice.

Thwip said:

December 9th, 9:39 am

Add an @Thwip function, or something similar, so I could know when someone speaks to me directly in a Community. As it stands now, I just get alerted about activity within a Community as a whole.

Stryker0022 said:

December 9th, 9:40 am

First of all, I’d like to thank all those who worked on developing this feature. Also, thank you for sharing the background story on how the project came to life.

I had a few suggestions to try to improve the overall experience:

1) When looking at players under the “Now Playing” tab/page, it’s difficult to tell which players are actually online since their PSN ID is not displayed. You can only see their avatar.

2) It would be nice if we could create topics/threads. This would help keep different discussions organized.

3) And finally, commenting on others post. Similar to what you see on this blog. Having replies to a particular comment displayed under the initial post.

Thank you all for your hard work. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

    Harerazer said:

    December 12th, 2:44 pm

    Glad I scrolled thru before posting. I had all of these concerns ready to post. Instead, I’ll just second these.

InsipidVirus said:

December 9th, 9:43 am

I’d love to be able to access the communities feature on my Playstation App for my phone. I hope that feature is coming soon. It’d be a lot easier to manage things from my phone. Also direct reply is a must have. It’d be great if we could make our own video trailer for our managed communities using ShareFactory.

CowLion said:

December 9th, 9:48 am

Everyone has already mentioned the need for reply posts and searching, but I find the game associated communities display page mostly broken.

For example, I go into the Overview for one of my games, like Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate, and it shows that there are 25 communities for the game. I click on them, it opens the communities section and… nothing. It’s empty. I see options for My Communities and Trending and neither one display a single community. None of those 25 communities ever load no matter how long I wait.

Meanwhile, I do the same for another game and its associate communities DO load under the Trending heading.

Seeing as there’s no search, finding a game associated community (that isn’t Star Wars, Fallout, Call of Duty, or GTA) is completely based on luck and makes the whole community thing rather useless.

    rottenfruityum said:

    December 9th, 4:08 pm

    It’s because there not trending so you can’t see them even though there available just not there but in peoples profiles. I think you can only see a community if it’s trending you would have to find the community somewhere else online or stumble upon it in someones profile.

    The only people who would ever get there comm seen are people that have a good number of people that know them already..

KoPEK said:

December 9th, 9:51 am

I would love to see more blog posts similar to this one. Keep up the great work!

YoungBlaise said:

December 9th, 10:08 am

Its really cool. I like it. Can you increase the amount of members that can join?

Mando44646 said:

December 9th, 10:10 am

communities seem to be missing a bunch of basic functionality. It should have been held longer

ReptileHand said:

December 9th, 11:06 am

It’s great to hear stories like this from developers on the blog. I’d like to see more in the future :)

I have a question though: Is there any way I can update notifications for a specific Community? Say I want to listen to my favorite community but not another one. I’d still like to be a part of that community without receiving notifications every time I sign on.

pata300 said:

December 9th, 11:16 am

This was a great read. Glad to hear search is coming, probably my only complaint about communities. Can’t wait to see what other features you guys add to it.

Superstone said:

December 9th, 11:44 am

I’d like to see a backwards compatible ps4. Just throwing it out there. Really don’t care about the social part. Happy gaming!!

KwietStorm said:

December 9th, 12:20 pm

Can we just get the option to make custom sub-groups within our friends list, without automatically and unnecessarily creating a group message that just spams everyone in it, whether they wanted to be in the message or not? It would be very useful for this. Also, appear invisible while online.

rigo-the-best said:

December 9th, 12:22 pm

This types of articles are the best, showing how is the development process and the obstacles they had to overcome. It also serves to shut up the ones that think it’s something simple to do. Thanks.

kuhadan-86 said:

December 9th, 1:14 pm

I just wish the return of the social community playstation home on ps4 that could be wonderfull notices. (^,.,^)

jlcaloca89 said:

December 9th, 1:48 pm

Think it would be possible to add this feature to the PS Vita? It would be a great way to share Vita screenshots.

KILLZONE79 said:

December 9th, 3:49 pm

One problem with communities, so say i want to join a destiny fireteam, join button is available ok fine, but when u click that button it says invite or friends only, well crap, so it would be nice to show friends only or invite only underneath the button, just saying!

rottenfruityum said:

December 9th, 4:13 pm

1 I think just searching within the game comm itself could be useful instead of searching the whole overall communities at once so you cant find hairy legs lovers comm or something not game related..

2 Direct replies on community post I could use to instead of making a new comment.

Corbie said:

December 9th, 7:10 pm

Its hard to find specific communities when you can only view 100 random ones of thousands.

Give us the ability to search for what we want, not whats “trending”. Trending doesn’t mean I’m interested.

Kaelum said:

December 9th, 10:41 pm

With search comes “MERGE”!

JEFFIEBOY_YOYO said:

December 10th, 7:36 am

How do you create a community?

pinder2009 said:

December 10th, 9:49 pm

I like the idea of communities but the way its been implemented seems like its only half finished. Look at the first image in the article as an example. The lack of Search for Community is glaring. Being able to search for a community based on the game, tags, or both!, as well as being able to sort the search by alphabetical, community size, or other parameters seem to me would be really basic functions that should have been included. At the moment you have to hope that either the community you are looking for is trending (the trending thing implies popularity and then why limit it to 100 instead of an infinite scroll?), or one of your friends is in a community you’re interested in.

ThePowerofX said:

December 12th, 5:59 am

Another suggestion for the SNEI folks…

“I created a community for my work friends, but it’s not always easy to arrange online sessions together. It would be nice if I could open the calendar app, set a time and date, and send an invite to my friends. This future event would be flagged on the calendar to remind them of its approach. Would this be possible?”

http://i.imgur.com/WAgSIp6.gif

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