During more than a decade covering primarily the RPG and massively multiplayer
genres, we've been fortunate to meet legions of talented, creative developers.
We've also had innumerable opportunities to listen in on and even to participate
in thought-provoking discussions about a wide range of related topics. A lot of
these occasions have been informal and spontaneous; they've often taken place at
conferences and trade shows, frequently among small groups of two or three
people. Although published articles can probably never hope to capture the
ambience of such conversations, we felt it would be interesting to offer a form
Although a few massively multiplayer titles receive the majority of exposure in
game publications, the category as a whole is far larger than many of us might
think. We may know there are now lots of downloadable free to play options.
However, we're less likely to be aware that many browser-based choices are also
available, or to know they can attract considerable numbers of users. For
example, Maid Marian Entertainment's Shockwave-based Sherwood Dungeon has over
1.5 million accounts. Gene Endrody was kind enough to provide these expert
insights on the sector in which his tiny company competes, apparently quite
"The web-based MMOG has been going through a renaissance. In this segment of the
industry, where the rules are still being written and media industry giants
don't have a stranglehold, it's still possible to be successful as a small,
independent developer. The web browser provides an environment that dwarfs all
other gaming platforms while appealing to a vastly diverse audience.
And yet, we're still the oft-forgotten ugly stepchildren of the industry. Gamers
frequently describe browser-based MMOGs as retro-looking, 2D, sprite-based,
"cutesy" experiences played in a little box on a web page. Will this always be
the case, or can we envision a future where the next World of Warcraft killer
app comes in a web page, and not off a shelf?
The massive success of endeavors like Runescape, Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin
demonstrates that web games have potential beyond just short, throwaway
experiences. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that in terms of total active
players, browser-based MMOGs are actually kicking the crap out of their boxed
counterparts. Notice I said, "total active players" - boxed games continue to
generate more revenue due to much greater earnings per player. The higher
expectations and commitment level of retail MMOG players means publishers can
charge them more, which is ultimately necessary due to skyrocketing development
costs. It seems this is discussed ad nauseam at conferences, but there's little
debate that web-based titles have become a thriving segment.
Companies that make web-based MMOGs often have more in common with dotcom
startups and new media firms than other developers, with funding more likely to
come from venture capital than game publishers. The category seems to be
charting a course influenced by Web 2.0 principles rather than their high-budget
cousins, following trends like social networking, user-generated content,
remixing and mash-up. Three Rings' Whirled and Raph Koster's Metaplace stand out
as recent examples. Of course, to be truly innovative, we have to get over our
fixation with "dress up my avatar, decorate my apartment" clones. Habbo Hotel
did it first and best... now let's leave it alone!
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There's some debate over the differences between browser-based plug-ins like
Java, Flash, Shockwave and Silverlight, but it's really just semantics. This
space is ultimately defined by the inherent limitations of the browsers. Team
preference towards certain programming environments and browser penetration
rates seem to be the determining factors. Web-based MMOG makers are a divergent
group to say the least; however, it's commonly held that 3D will exclude a
percentage of the potential audience, and that the game behind the graphics is
what's important, not the eye-candy. 2D or 2.5D isometric graphics can take
advantage of Flash's or Java's uniquity, and have the broadest reach with the
lowest hardware requirements.
Nevertheless, for Sherwood Dungeon, we decided to ignore conventional browser
wisdom and take a road less traveled. We chose to focus on creating immersive
experiences that leverage Adobe Shockwave's 3D capability. I like the visual
presentation of games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft. We wanted to keep
the traditional full screen 3D experience, but get rid of the retail boxes,
store lineups, downloads, patches and registrations.
Without the burden of downloading and installing a large client, or having to
drive to Wal-Mart, a lower level of commitment is required for the all-important
first experience. This attracts a vastly diverse audience, including
self-described non-gamers. Web-based games have an uncanny affinity for viral
marketing through blogs, portals, e-mail, forums, instant messages and social
networking because anyone can become a distribution partner simply by providing
a link saying "Hey, try this cool game."
"Imagine clicking a link on a web page and being transported instantly into a 3D
world with the fidelity and depth of a triple-A retail boxed MMOG." This elusive
dream initially attracted us to this space. If we could remove all barriers to
trying our game, maybe people wouldn't notice we're a husband and wife team
making games independently in our attic. It turns out players loved that we're a
cottage industry operation, and as we continued pushing toward the goal, our
little independent project grew organically to over a million unique players a
month. Through incremental updates since 2004, Sherwood Dungeon has been an
ongoing experiment to raise expectations about the level of 3D quality an MMOG
can deliver within a browser.
Interestingly enough, it's just the browsers' restrictions that effectively
level the playing field between us and larger developers. Having an army of
artists and vast cash reserves doesn't provide much advantage when the game
needs to be small enough to run within a web page. If Sherwood required a large
installable client, we'd be competing with companies like Blizzard and Sony...
which would be insane. But in the web gaming space, being small and nimble with
low overhead gives us an advantage, and makes our goal of having one of the most
popular web-based 3D fantasy games achievable, for us as an independent."
Gene Endrody CEO and Founder,
Maid Marian Entertainment
As the founder of Maid Marian Entertainment, Gene Endrody creates massive
multiplayer 3D games you play in a web browser. Winner of New Media BC's PopVox
2007 awards for both Best Game and Best of British Columbia, Sherwood Dungeon
MMORPG is played by over 1.5 million unique players a month, and hosts up to
5,000 simultaneous users during peak times.