Going it Alone

Going it Alone
Stumbling Into the Kingdom of Loathing

Robert Janelle | 5 Aug 2008 13:02
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Being browser-based, it's also able to appeal to casual players as well as the more hardcore crowd. Players are allotted 40 turns per day, though players can beef that number up to a maximum of 200 by using different items, enchantments or drinking an in-game beer.

Devin Lamb, a 22-year-old web developer, first signed up for the game looking for a way to kill time at a summer job.

"I figured the turn-based system would keep me from actually getting addicted to it. I've never been a big fan of multiplayer games, so I liked the fact that I could play it on my own, and it had an awesome sense of humor," he said in an email. Unfortunately, Lamb wasn't able to avoid addiction, as he's been playing for more than three years and administers the fan group on Facebook, "A Facebooker is you," with more than 4000 members.

If finishing all the challenges in the game aren't enough, players can go for an "ascension" after completing the main quests, which is the closest thing there is to an ending. Following the ascension, the game starts over and the player respawns with new areas and challenges unlocked.

According to Nite, he and Johnson dreamed up the idea over beers in a local bar. Nite was inspired by Super Mario Bros., where restarting after rescuing the princess led to a more challenging game in which all the regular Koopas become Buzzy Beetles. It took a year to implement, but it fundamentally changed how the game worked. It also kept players coming back, with some having ascended more than 400 times.

Continually adding new content has been critical to keeping the community engaged. "It seems that just as Kingdom of Loathing gets monotonous, something new is added, keeping the game from getting old," said Czarnecki. Most recently, Nite and Johnson introduced the game's first true multiplayer dungeon. In the past, player interaction had been possible through the in-game chat and mail system, a unique take on PvP combat or by joining clans with goal of finding items to furnish the clan hideout. "Hobopolis," however, is a massive dungeon that would take a single player thousands of turns to complete. The idea is to have clan members divide up duties and use their respective turns to finish it off.

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More than five years later, Johnson and his team have managed to keep coming up with fresh content. "I suppose at some point we'll work something for a month and have people tell us it's a repeat of jokes we've already done," said Johnson. "That's the point where we'll consider hanging up our hats."

The biggest secret to Kingdom of Loathing's success, however, has probably been keeping things running on a smaller scale than more mainstream operations. The 100,000 to 150,000 regular players are a far cry from World of Warcraft's 10 million subscribers, but it's been enough for a small company to exist outside the gaming industry.

That's not to say there haven't been attempts to take Kingdom of Loathing to a broader audience. At one point Johnson was approached with an offer to buy out the company by someone he said "didn't understand the scope of what we were doing." The would-be financier offered to purchase the operation and allow Johnson and Nite to continue their work on the game. But for them, the costs of "selling out" outweighed the benefits.

"I wasn't interested," said Johnson. "I was in no hurry to sit in a cubicle again."

Robert Janelle is a freelance contributor to The Escapist and a Level 12 Disco Bandit.

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