Well… okay… I guess that’s technically not the only way we know how. But throwing a party for all our members might be a bit problematic. I did look into it, really. Let’s see… assuming that just the players from North America would show up for the party, we’d still need something like 706,250 gallons of punch, 188,330 full-sheet cakes, 11,300,000 party hats, and 124 buildings the size of China’s new Olympic stadium to hold the festivities in. I think we’ll stick with online games!
For a bit of extra fun, though, I went and hassled one of the longest-time MSN Games employees I could find into sharing a bit of insight about the old days, the site today, and where we’re headed in the future. Meet “Yidy”, a wonderful lady who’s been along since the early days of The Zone!
The Zone According to Yidy
Moxie: First off, thanks for taking the time to share your memories of the site! I know you joined up when MSN Games was still The Zone, but even before that it was called The Village. How many games did we have back then?
Yidy: Not many! The original games of The Village were Go, Chess, Hearts, Spades, and Bridge.
Moxie: We really have come a long way, then! So, what was your personal favorite game from each of The Village, The Zone, and MSN Games?
Yidy: Wow! That's a hard question because we've had so many games over the years. From the Zone, my favorite games were classic Hearts, Ants, Mind Aerobics, the Age of Empires Expansion, and Double Trouble. We have a new version of Hearts on MSN Games with a terrific game design. I also love to play our new version of multiplayer Chess with my 7-year-old son. Of the free single-player games on the site, my favorites are Zuma, Chuzzle, Solitaire in Motion, and AstroPop. And I love the themed Trivia games! I also love to win the weekly promo badges, and once I get one, I'm excited to see the animation of the badge in my album.
Moxie: Chuzzle’s a big favorite of mine as well! All right, are there any games on the site that seem overlooked? As in, games that you love but nobody else seems to have heard of?
Yidy: Absolutely! We have a really beautiful jigsaw game that you can play single-player or you can invite a friend to piece together the same jigsaw game. It's called Jigsaw Too and you can play on MSN Games and Messenger. I actually play this game at least twice a week and one of the cool features in the game is that you can upload your own photos to create your own jigsaw game.
Moxie: I play that one with my dad. He usually fits in about twice as many puzzle pieces as I do… same as when I was a kid! Okay, what's the coolest contest we ever ran?
Yidy: One of my favorite tournaments was Gary Kasparov vs. the World in 1999, where players from around the world had an opportunity to vote on the next move against Kasparov. To have the opportunity to play online against the best and brightest in the world was an amazing experience!
Another favorite was the MechWarrior tournament where we flew the final four contestants out to Seattle for a live showdown. We gave the top two finishers Harley Davidson cycles! But my all-time favorite was the Age of Empires International tournament; we hosted online tournaments on our site for players in 16 countries. A finalist from each of the countries was flown out to Microsoft to battle it out in the last round, and the winner received $100,000. That was an awesome event to see. At Microsoft main campus, we posted the games on a huge projection screen and everyone in the audience was watching as the finalists battled it out head-to-head.
We gave away some amazing prizes over the years: tickets to Rome, a Toyota Tundra truck, the Links $1 million golf tournament, a year’s supply of Omaha steaks, and more!
Moxie: Yep, I’ve always been bummed that we’re not eligible to enter these things! Next question: do you happen to have any funny or cool stories about particular Zone/MSN Games players? Or about playing against them?
Yidy: There are so many great stories to tell. Years ago, our team would go into the classic lobbies every Friday to play against each other. And the community would be ready and anxiously waiting for us to come online so they could take us down. One Friday, everyone in our group jumped into an Age of Empires lobby and it was immediately flooded with players: they really wanted to play against us "Zoners"! There were more players than we had lobbies. So our Operations team had to jump in and create new lobby rooms on the fly to accommodate all the players.
Our community is the best. They have shared stories of friendships they've made on the site, and some of these friendships even turned into marriages. To this day, I still love reading emails, letters, and forum posts from players around the world.
Moxie: Which Zone game hosted the rowdiest group of players? And which game had or has the most tight-knit community?
Yidy: Mmm… I'd have to say the most colorful language would have been found in our classic Checkers room. There is still a tight-knit community for all of our multiplayer card games. Players can be really competitive no matter which game they play! So we added a feature in our new multiplayer card and board games to enable players to choose who they want to play against, and to turn chat on or off. These days, players have the ability to customize their own experience.
Moxie: Ohhh, yes, that was a smart move. So what's the single best change the site ever made over the years?
Yidy: There have been so many changes it's really hard to single one out. I would say that each time we launch a new redesign of the site, we take our players' feedback seriously and we try to incorporate it into the new look and feel. Our current site reflects a lot of that feedback; we designed it in such a way that you should always be less than three clicks away from getting into a free web game.
Moxie: What's your favorite story about something that happened behind the scenes on The Zone or MSN Games?
Yidy: My favorite thing about being behind the scenes on The Zone is the team camaraderie we’ve had over the years. I want every player of MSN Games (aka The Village, aka The Zone) to know how hard our entire team works to build a solid site, and that we really do care about our community of players. Before we launch a new site, our team spends countless late hours making sure everything looks great. We’ll finish a revision at 2:00 AM, and at 8:00 in the morning, the roll-out of the new site looks great.
There have been so many great wee-hours conversations among the team; we're like a command center making sure every web page, every game, every service runs like clockwork before we make it live for people around the world to enjoy. Of course, the next day when you walk around the hallways, you'll see lots of empty Coke cans on desks, empty bags of chips and lots of opened candy wrappers. Sugar and caffeine seem to be the choice of inspiration for pulling all-nighters.
Moxie: It’s Dr. Pepper and Doritos here in the writer office. I swear, in large enough quantities, they can substitute for sleep. While you’re talking about updates and changes, though, what can players expect from MSN Games in the coming months?
Yidy: The team has been really busy designing new features for the site. In the meantime, we’re always launching new free web games and new download games, and adding games to our GameSpring lineup. Oh, and our marketing team is actively working on some upcoming special events to be launched this fall. I can’t talk about those yet, though!
Moxie: Sounds good to me! One last question: do you think MSN Games will still be around in another twelve years? ‘Cause I want to be playing Bejeweled 8 on the dashboard computer of my flying car!
Yidy: Absolutely! People of all ages love to play games. And as long as people love to play games, there will always be an MSN Games site, providing an excellent online game experience. And I'm proud to be one the people involved!