Have you ever wanted to make your own MMOG? Have you ever thought if only you knew how to code you would make an MMOG that rocks? Few of us really think we could do something like that on our own. Well for the past 6 years, Gene Endrody has done exactly that! He has painstakingly single handedly created his own free to play MMOG called Sherwood Dungeon. Growing to over 1 million unique players per month, Gene has shown how far one man with a dream and a little know how can climb. Ten Ton Hammer recently sat down with Gene to discuss the success of Sherwood Dungeon
One man made all of this?
Ten Ton Hammer: Tell us about Sherwood Dungeon. For those that are unfamiliar with it, what is it?
Gene Endrody: Sherwood Dungeon is
a free 3D fantasy MMO that runs in your web browser but with the look
and feel of a downloadable client or boxed game. As we don’t require
registration or download, most players can go from discovering the game
to playing it in less than a minute. Sherwood is spread over six
islands and includes a procedurally generated dungeon influenced by
games like Rogue and Nethack. Combat is skill or twitch based as
timing and practice are emphasized over XP level, particularly for PVP
where XP levels have no influence. Sherwood doesn’t use the
traditional tank, DPS, healer trinity and focuses more on an action RPG
style of melee combat. This was intended to make the game more in your
face and visceral. Did I mention that it’s also free? There
are unobtrusive ads that run directly under the game and some optional
pets that can be purchased for $5 each, but all the core elements are
completely free of charge.
Ten Ton Hammer: What inspired you to make the game and tackle a project of this type?
Gene: I started making small shockwave based games in the evenings and
weekends ten years ago while I was working in the console game industry
as a technical art director. These were just small, fun hobby
projects and there were no grand plans or aspirations. I was inspired
by designers like Richard Garriott, who created many of the early Ultima games by himself. The web browser seemed to be one of the few spaces
left where it was still possible to tackle game projects as a solo
developer. By the time development started on Sherwood in 2004, some of
my earlier games and tech demos had already established a small
following and I’d attracted the attention of the Shockwave team at
Macromedia (now Adobe). They nominated one of the projects for a
People’s Choice Award at Macromedia’s User Conference in 2001 and
provided some of the early web traffic. In those early years I wasn’t
expecting any money and I didn’t have a budget per se. I just made
stuff, put it up on the MaidMarian.com website and because those early
experiments were either 3D chatrooms or multiplayer games of some sort,
a player community formed. They were the ones that really
encouraged me to tackle a fantasy MMO and helped establish the emergent
nature of the early Sherwood community.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do you survive six years without advertising or marketing?
Undead Pirates rock!
Gene: Initially the players came from other projects I was working on but
that grew organically through word of mouth over time. I put ads
directly under the games to help cover bandwidth and server
costs. By the time I left my day job in 2006, the revenue from
advertising had passed what I was making working in the console games
industry. My wife joined the company at that time to handle
everything not directly related to making or running the games. In 2008
I added a selection of pets, mounts and allies to the game including
creatures like wolves, dragons, lions, unicorns and spiders.
Today the pet sales account for about 30% of revenue. We’ve tried
to maintain a small, mom and pop corner grocery store feel to the
business as opposed to becoming a traditional publisher funded
developer or VC funded startup. We are not beholden to investors,
publishers or distributors, don’t do work for hire, don’t owe anyone
money and own 100% of the IP. I’m very aware of how lucky that
makes us especially considering the games industry in recent years
seems to be running on the feudal system.
Ten Ton Hammer: How long did it take for the game to be developed, given that it's a one man team?
Gene: In late 2003 I started with a statement on the MaidMarian.com website that Sherwood would be an experiment with a more open
development process where the players could see the game evolve over
time and participate in the process with their feedback. The
players understood it would never be finished and that what I was
attempting to do was a little wacko, particularly for some guy in his
basement with a day job. The first version of the game was released in
early 2004 and it was just a simple 3D chat room with one avatar and
swords that didn’t actually do any damage. Early players bought into
the idea of what Sherwood could be some day as opposed to what it
actually was. The fact that I wanted their feedback to help steer the
direction of development was apparently such a rare thing that they
were willing to overlook the fact that it was barely a game at that
point. Other than just hanging out and chatting, players began
filling the gaps with their own activities and a culture of emergent
play started that never left the game. Week by week I’ve released many
updates and Sherwood has evolved into what we have today. I still
consider it unfinished and there’s plenty left to do.
Ten Ton Hammer: What were some of the biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Gene: I enjoy the technical challenge and although I’ve been in over my head
a few times, that’s not where I lose the most sleep. The biggest
challenge has been just putting myself out there. Feedback from players
and critiques can put you on an emotional rollercoaster. Many players
don’t necessary know or care that it’s just one guy who made the game.
They just want entertainment value and even if the game is free, their
time is valuable. With so many players there is constant pressure to
deliver that can’t be escaped other than to put my head down, do the
work and try to remember that I’m really lucky.
How do you make Unicorns cool... Fire Unicorns!
Ten Ton Hammer: How many people are playing the game now?
Gene: We get about 1.5 million unique visitors every month across all of our games. Sherwood Dungeon gets just over a million unique players per month.
Ten Ton Hammer: How many can the server support?
have three game servers and each can comfortably handle around 3000
players. Right now we peak at about 1500 to 2000 concurrent users per
server depending on the day of the week.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is the hardware personally owned & maintained or are you set up commercially?
rent self managed dedicated servers from Server Beach. This makes it
easy to retire older hardware and we can easily add new servers as our
bandwidth requirements go up. We have 11 servers dedicated to web, game
or database applications and push about 30 terabytes of data every
month. Because we’re a small operation, I’ve tried to keep the servers
as simple and streamlined as possible with multiple layers of
redundancy to cover any surprises.
Ten Ton Hammer: Why the choice now to step it up and start publicity for it?
Gene: This was actually because of Ten Ton Hammer. I’m a frequent visitor to your site and noticed we were missing in action from your list of 350 MMOs despite the fact that we have a larger player base and longer history than many of the games on the list. This really hammered the point home to me that we were doing an especially bad job at getting the word out to the press about who we are and what we’ve been up to. Many of the larger game companies issue a press release every time something even remotely interesting happens with one of their games. Sherwood may be a quirky, independent, underground cult game but we are also one of the more established veterans in the browser MMO space and in retrospect we should have been making more of an effort with publicity all along.
Ten Ton Hammer: Where do you see the game going from here?
Gene: I’m going to stick with the same process and continue to evolve the game through small updates. We don’t talk much about updates before they are released or discuss specifics about what’s in the works and new features usually just appear in the game without advanced notice or hype. This way there’s no false expectations and it’s just a nice surprise. Players can often get a sense of what’s on my priority list from the on-going conversations on the Facebook page, particularly when I ask for feedback on aspects of the game. No player community speaks with one voice, so it’s always a tricky balancing act. I try to be transparent about the process and don’t treat the players like they are idiots. When I’m forced to make a controversial choice, whether or not they agree, at least there’s an understanding about how I reached that decision. I’m over simplifying how complex this can be, but after six years I’ve gotten a little better at it.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers about the game or the development of it?
Sherwood is designed to be playable either in a small window, typical
of a web game or full screen, more like a boxed MMO. We have a
liberal linking policy and provide code so that any website can embed
Sherwood and the other games on their site so long as the ad is visible
under the game. With hundreds of sites linking in, we’ve ended up with
an ad-hoc distribution network rather than relying on a major game
portal. This also means that Sherwood guilds and clans can include the
game itself as part of the content of their guild site. So if you want Sherwood Dungeon on your website, let me know.
Our thanks to Gene for taking the time to discuss Sherwood Dungeon with us. You can find check out the game by clicking here.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Sherwood Dungeon Game Page.