Going it Alone

Going it Alone
Stumbling Into the Kingdom of Loathing

Robert Janelle | 5 Aug 2008 13:02
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Even from its modest beginning, Kingdom of Loathing was driven by the players. The bare-bones version of what would later become an expansive virtual world gained a few loyal players who inspired Johnson to keep working on the game. With no advertising or other active recruitment, the project slowly gained players by word of mouth, but took off once it was featured on the front page of comedy website Something Awful.

The bandwidth used by Kingdom of Loathing's player base soon led to phone calls from Johnson's web host about CPU usage, and he had to look at getting a dedicated server. This led to a request for donations, just to cover hosting costs. "It was costing more than I felt comfortable paying out of my own pocket," said Johnson.

A funny thing happened, though. A year and a half after launching the game, Johnson realized he was making enough through the donations to escape from his cubicle and work on Kingdom of Loathing full time. "I didn't really believe it at first," he said.

"[Zack] went from buying our beers to paying me part time to paying me full time as the game could support it," said Nite.

Johnson and Nite bring in some additional revenue from the official store, which stocks a variety of wares from t-shirts to shot glasses to a plastic replica of the Saber-Toothed Lime, one of the game's more popular creatures. However Johnson, who openly admits his disdain for commercialism, emphasizes that the profits are minimal, since they sell everything only slightly above cost.

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Kingdom of Loathing's success has earned Johnson invitations to speak as part of panels on internet revenue, all of which he has declined. "I'm probably the worst person to talk about business," he said. "A lot of the reasons we make money are that we haven't really tried to make money."

He attributed the games success to fact that 90 percent of development time is spent working on free content. "It creates an environment where players trust us," he said.

That trusting environment extends beyond just making a game free to play, though. Aside from programming and writing, the developers behind Kingdom of Loathing also directly interact with players through the game's forums. "I think people appreciate that we're not a faceless corporation. We're a bunch of regular people, fallible, not inclined to corporate-speak," said Nite. "It allows people to be more invested in the game."

It's a sentiment shared by the game's players. "The creators are just a couple of average joes who were talented and creative enough to make [Kingdom of Loathing] a reality," said 32-year-old Gregg Czarnecki, who's been playing for a little more than a year. "The fan base can really relate to [Zack] and company for this reason."

Players are also attracted to the game by the community itself, which promotes a higher level of discourse than many online communities. Players must pass a spelling and grammar test in order to access the in-game chat system, where "leet speak" is frowned upon. Then there's the variety of ways the game can be played. Kingdom of Loathing presently consists of 13 main quests, but there are also sub-quests, challenges that require players to build up certain skills to complete, trophies to collect, meat to be earned and many other tasks to master.

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