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Universal Hint System

Giving gamers a helping hand.

In the middle of a game, getting stuck can either be fun or frustrating, depending on the outcome. For those who crave just a few little hints about how to wiggle out of a tough situation, Jason Strautman created Boston-based Universal Hint System, a site that helps gamers keep playing. He talks about doing it all for the love of the game.

How did the idea for a hint system site come about?

I first wrote the UHS as a program for the Atari in 1988, well before the Web was started. A few months later, I was on The Gamers’ Forum on CompuServe and saw that they were asking volunteers to answer members’ questions about specific games. It occurred to me then that the UHS Reader could automate a lot of that process of asking and answering questions, and I started to look for other people to help write the UHS hint files and readers for other platforms.

In 1998, we finally made most of our hint files available for free direct Web viewing. I originally thought that providing free on-line versions of our hints would detract from sales of our UHS Reader software, but I also expected ad revenue would make up for the lost sales. However, the free hints turned out to be a great promotion for the extra benefits our UHS Readers offer: ad-free viewing; quicker loading, since all the hints are stored on users’ hard drives; and printing and searching features. As a result, we’ve still been able to grow, even in today’s ad market.

How do you get the hints that you publish?

Most of our hints come from playing the games ourselves. Once we release a file, we’ll sometimes have go back and add things — either because players got stuck in ways that we hadn’t thought about, or because they found something we missed the first time around. The more straightforward the game is, though, the more likely our authors are able to be able to find everything they need for a good hint file on their own.

Have you gotten any negative reactions from gaming companies that might not want their secrets revealed?

Generally speaking, no. Most game companies already have their own official hint books, and there are plenty of other sites that offer some kind of hints or cheats these days. In our first few years, companies were occasionally a little unhappy with us, but I haven’t heard any complaints for a long while. In fact, some companies, especially the smaller publishers, will link from their official sites to our hints. So overall, I’d say that the reaction from game companies has been somewhat positive.

What makes your site different from a game hint book, or other online hint sites?

Most published strategy guides and walkthroughs that you can download elsewhere on the Internet assume that people will read the information from start to finish like you’d read a novel. The UHS, on the other hand, is designed to give players only the hints that they need. They might read every tenth or twentieth question in one of our hint files. That, of course, is the whole point of the UHS — we don’t want people spoiling their games by reading hints for parts of the game they haven’t played yet.

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