Today, we launched an MMO called Realm of the Mad God (RotMG) in partnership with our friends Rob and Alex at Wildshadow Studios. It is, I believe, the first-ever massively cooperative bullet hell shooter. 85 people rampaging together, in real-time, through a bullet-riddled landscape. Oh, and its all Flash. Must be seen to believed. :-)
RotMG is available exclusively via the RotMG website and via Chrome Web Store for the next several weeks. The game has been in open beta for over a year now, but we’ve never attempted to drive traffic to the game via portals (or announcements on our blog) before now.
Spry Fox and Wild Shadow
When Rob and Alex first approached us with RotMG, we didn’t know what to think. It was an insanely ambitious game from a technical perspective (several engineers who we trust said of the game, more or less: “that simply isn’t possible.”) It was Hardcore with a capital-H: difficult to play without practice and skill, very retro in its aesthetic, and it featured perma-death. When your character dies, it is truly dead forever, and all you get is a bit of virtual currency (we call it “fame”) as a silver-lining.
So why did we agree to join forces with Rob and Alex? Well, for starters, they convinced us that they were capable of solving the technical challenges with RotMG that everyone else seemed to think would be insurmountable. Second, they seemed like good, honest, logical guys, which counts for a heck of a lot with us. Third, we appreciated their willingness to buck convention and try new things.
Doing the niche thing
And lastly, it was an opportunity for us to stop talking about the potential of niche markets on the Web and start actually exploring that potential. Regular readers of this blog will know that I think the “long tail”, as Chris Anderson initially presented it, is an over-hyped and tremendously misunderstood phenomenon; but I’ve also frequently said that if there’s anywhere the long tail could potentially benefit game developers, its massive and open platforms… aka the Web (and, to a lesser extent, big proprietary platforms within the Web like Facebook.)
RotMG is a game that will never achieve anything close to the active user population of a game like Cityville or Bejewelled Blitz. But a game like RotMG doesn’t need to. We can reach many millions of potential players via web game portals like Chrome Web Store. If we can convert just 40k of those people to recurring visitors, we can make a healthy profit. And we can hopefully maintain that community for many years to come, because there’s nothing like RotMG on the market as of now.
I would never dream of attempting to launch a game like this on XBLA and PSN or even iOS/Android, with their comparatively much larger audiences. A game like this simply isn’t going to appeal to most people who play it, no matter how well-designed the game may be. And on the Web, that’s entirely OK!
The best way to leverage the web game portal ecosystem is to rip all the barriers to entry out of your game. For example: most MMOs, even F2P MMOs, will make you create an account to play, or at very least create a character. The RotMG experience for a new visitor goes like this:
- Load the game.
- See and click the large, pulsing text that says “PLAY”.
- Immediately begin playing the game as a wizard (the easiest class to wrap your head around) with a randomly-generated name.
If you like the game, you can always change your randomly-generated name to a permanent one and experiment with other classes. But we don’t want a single person quitting the game because they weren’t feeling inspired enough to work through an arbitrary account creation process. We know the wizard class is easy to understand and fun to play. We don’t need to make you wade through the tedious process of trying to register a name that hasn’t already been registered by someone else. We want you in the game and playing.
Try it out
I hope you’ll take the time to give Realm of the Mad God a try. It’s a weird and wonderful thing. :-)
PS. I’ll try to write another post on RotMG in two or three months that gives more insight into the game’s business model. One thing I’ve found is that even with the many thousands of players we’ve observed in the open beta, we simply don’t have enough data to draw statistically-significant conclusions about much of what comprises the game’s economy. I’ll look at a period of three or four weeks, with many thousands of visitors during that time, and think I can spot meaningful trends in purchase behavior; then I’ll expand the window of time to two months and realize that my assumptions were incorrect. Lesson: depending on the nature of your game, it can take tens of thousands of visitors before you have the slightest idea what’s really going on in your economy…