Official Forumwarz Blog

The official blog for the web game, Forumwarz

Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Screencast: The Conversation Editor

A bunch of people showed interest in the conversation editor I showed off in the screenshots of our admin section.

I decided to record a screencast that shows off how the tool works. It’s un-rehearsed and rough around the edges but it’ll give you an idea of how we write the conversations that you play out in sTalk.

Written by eviltrout

February 18, 2009 at 3:29 PM

Posted in Coding, Home, News

Tagged with , , ,

We’re not dead yet!

I wrote up this article for Building Browsergames, a cool site for people who are interested in building games like Forumwarz. I’m cross-posting it here.

For most retail computer and video games, once your game gets shipped into stores, the job is done. Sure, there may be bug fixes or future downloadable content, but those require a skeleton staff and minuscule budgets compared to the development of the initial game.

On a browser game, the process is a bit different. Since there is no physical product shipping out in flashy boxes, you can deliver new content with virtually no deployment costs. However, in this sense, it means the job is never quite done. It becomes a constant effort to continuously improve the product. It also becomes trickier to try to sell it.

So this article will be a little different than a “post mortem” on a typical console or retail game, as I am still actively working on the project. Forumwarz is my full-time job. At any given time we have a lengthy list of enhancements we want to add to the game. In a given week, I typically deploy 10 to 30 updates. Most of them are small bug fixes or enhancements to streamline the process, but sometimes they are larger features that make up entirely new components of the game.

What’s Forumwarz?

Forumwarz is a parody role-playing game. You play it in your web browser. The hook is, instead of playing as a knight battling orcs in dungeons (or whatever), you role-play an Internet user “pwning” fake internet sites. Yes, that’s right: Forumwarz is an Internet game where you simulate an archetype of an Internet user. You can play as a Troll, Emo Kid, Hacker, Camwhore or Permanoob. Within the game’s universe, there are hundreds of fake internet sites that you navigate to, leveling up, gaining new abilities and employing new equipment. You also meet and interact with all sorts of interesting and sometimes bizarre characters along the way. We like to call it “the Internet — in game form.”

Our team is quite small. I’m Robin “Evil Trout” Ward, the only full-time employee and I’m responsible for the programming. I came up with the initial idea for the game. Our head writer is Mike “Jalapeno Bootyhole” Drach and our third partner is Jason “BINGEBOT 2015″ Kogan. I’d say at this point all three of us are game designers and heavily involved in every aspect of the game’s development.

The Perks

It is awesome to have created something from nothing (okay, nothing but a high-speed internet connection and healthy dose of caffeine). A few years ago, Forumwarz was just an idea, and now it’s a game that players enjoy every day. I remember the first few pieces of fanmail I got and how awesome it was to hear people gush about it.

My professional background in programming before Forumwarz was J2EE and PHP, although I’d dabbled in many other languages in my spare time. For Forumwarz, I decided to try out Ruby on Rails because I’d heard positive things about it. I quickly fell in love.

Ruby made all other programming languages look ugly to me. Rails made complicated web tasks simple. I found it easy to jump in and start learning, but hard to master. I am still learning to this day and it’s a huge privilege to be able to work with it.

The Doubt

Before I worked on Forumwarz, I was a web developer who implemented other people’s ideas. This sometimes meant doing things that I thought were wrong for the products I was working on. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that I was building software for other people in exchange for their money, and I was happy to build things however they wanted it. But there was always this feeling in the back of my head that, “Wow, if that was my money I would do things differently.”

It’s one thing to constantly tell yourself that you wouldn’t make the same mistakes that other people make. It’s something completely different to step up and start putting your money where your mouth is. In fact, it’s downright terrifying.

I remember when I first started telling people about the game. Some were friends and family. Some were members of the local Ruby/Rails community. I must have explained the concept several dozens of times. I am not exaggerating when I say that, save one or two exceptions, I always received a blank stare. It wasn’t hard to read their reactions: They either didn’t understand the idea or, worse, thought it was stupid. The honest ones even told me so (and I appreciated it)!

If I could go back in time and give myself only one piece of advice it would be: Doubt is normal. If you are investing your time and money in a new venture or project, you will doubt yourself.

I worked for over a year on Forumwarz before we opened it up to the public. I kept up a furious pace of development, working 10-12 hours a day, usually taking one day a week for rest. I was investing an enormous amount of time in something that I couldn’t even explain to people properly! Before we launched our beta, I’d tell myself on sleepness nights that at least it was a blast to learn, and it gave me the opportunity to fall in love with Ruby on Rails, so it wouldn’t matter if only five people ever liked it. Still, I knew there was someone out there who would get the joke.

Launch

We launched the game in an invite-only beta on Halloween 2007, through the popular Something Awful forums. Hundreds of people played that day, and we watched them post their responses. Our entire team was blown away at how much positive feedback we received right out of the gate.

To this day, it remains one of the most positive experiences of my life. I learned a valuable lesson: Just because other people don’t get excited about your idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. I’m not sure if I was just terrible at delivering the pitch. Or maybe Forumwarz is a game that’s simply better experienced than explained. It’s likely a bit of both.

We took off the “beta” tag and opened our doors to the public in early 2008. We quickly grew to 30,000 accounts. In October, we launched our second episode of the storyline which had a small fee ($10) to play. Shortly thereafter we hit 100,000 accounts and have been growing aggressively since. Word-of-mouth recommendation and positive feedback from influential sites like Wired.com and Gawker gave us the initial boost in membership, and we’ve followed up by advertising wherever we think we have a chance of being noticed. Now, after about a year of being open to the public, we’ve seen more than 130,000 people sign up for the game. I can finally say with confidence that more than a few people do get the joke.

Growing Pains

Scaling from 1,000 users to 100,000 users in one year presents a great deal of difficulties. When I say “scale,” I am not simply referring to the site’s performance (although we underwent several major hardware and software upgrades to sustain the load). I am also referring to the infrastructure you need to deal with a community that large.

If your forums get 1,000 posts in a day — especially on a site that’s essentially “about” flaming forums — will you have the resources to moderate them?

What about bug reports? Would you expect that many users will submit a bug reports just because they can’t solve a puzzle in the game?

A small percentage of your users will try and hack your site. Most people are smart enough to avoid SQL injection, but is your site safe against XSS or XSRF attacks?

And there are other, less immediate issues related to having a suddenly large community. Some users will simply email you with personal comments and you’ll seem ungrateful if you don’t reply. In a given day, I receive hundreds of emails related to the site (errors, correspondence from users, bug reports, etc). If I responded to each one I wouldn’t have any time to work on the game at all!

This is something we are still very much working on. We have elected a couple of moderators who are doing a great job maintaining our forums. We recently launched a knowledge base to help people find answers to their questions, but it’s far from perfect. I know that we’ll never be able to help every user through the game, but we want to make sure that people have as close to a painless experience as possible.

Having a Thick Skin

Gamers are awesome because they’re often intelligent, focused and passionate. However, that also comes with the side-effect of them often being quite opinionated.

Gamers will criticize just about every decision you make. A certain percentage of it can be ignored as trolling, but sometimes I’ve made decisions that I thought were in the best interests of the game and it wound up upsetting many people.

Forumwarz has evolved to encompass many different gameplay styles that all interact in one game ecosystem. As I mentioned before, our team is small. We do our best to think things through, and we often solicit our users for feedback on upcoming features. However, in my experience, no small group can effectively predict how tens of thousands will use a new gameplay feature. We do our best when we launch new content, but the real testing is done when all those eyeballs fall upon the page.

If there is a major problem with something, it shows up immediately. Fortunately, since the game is web-based we can deploy updates quite quickly. In fact, I have gotten somewhat used to only launching a feature when I’m sure I’ll have a couple of days set aside to throw up patches to address any initial issues.

As I said, most of our users are passionate because they truly love the game and want it to be the best game on the web. Their feedback is invaluable. Others, however, can be quite mean. If your project ends up attracting any kind of sizable community, be prepared for nastiness. People will say hurtful things, and they will make it personal. Sometimes I find it hilarious (like when they Photoshop my head onto images) but other times it does sting. So make sure you have a thick skin!

The Road Ahead

I recently read a comment on the Hacker News that resonated with me:

I asked Jessica Livingston to speak at the business of software conference, and I suggested that she talk about all the ways Y-Combinator startups fail. “That would be boring,” she told me, “it’s always they same thing: they just stop working on it.”

As someone who has started hundreds of software projects in my lifetime (most of which only lasted a few hours of development), I fully understand this. Keeping a web business online involves working hard through many periods of doubt. Most people don’t stop because they are starving to death and can’t feed their family; they stop because they have grown tired of it or have been discouraged by some kind of recent event (perhaps income drops, a new feature was a disaster, etc).

I’m quite proud of Forumwarz and the community it has spawned. It is worth the occasional sleepness night or headache to keep it going. Ultimately, it’s been quite rewarding to work on and I will continue doing it as long as I possibly can. If I hadn’t persisted through the doubt when this started two years ago, I’d still be developing other people’s ideas and wondering if anyone would get the joke.

Written by eviltrout

February 17, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Posted in Home, News

Tagged with ,

Interview on Building Browsergames

There’s a short interview with me up on Building Browsergames. I think it’s a promising site that’s geared towards helping out develoepers who are interested in building their own games like Forumwarz.

(I’ve also agreed to do a Forumwarz “Post-Mortem” for them. It should be live shortly and I’ll probably cross-post/link it on this blog too.)

Written by eviltrout

February 15, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Posted in Home, News

Tagged with ,

What’s Coming!


fig 1.1

So Kyoubai has been quite the success! Since it launched just over two weeks ago, we’ve hosted over 40,000 auctions with 150,000 bids. At any given time, there seems to be over 1,000 auctions to peruse for stuff like rare .moar files.

Thanks to all our users who offered input and helped us tweak the system so that it’s easier to use and less prone to exploits.

Up Next: ItemBuildr

Last night during our weekly brainstorming meeting, we discussed our next project: ItemBuildr.

ItemBuildr is to items as ForumBuildr is to forums. Every week there will be a competition where items are created by our users for the community.

The beauty of ItemBuildr is that it will mean a steady trickle of new equipment, junk and collectible items into the game economy. And unlike other popular MMOs, each item in our game will have a hilarious blurb of text inside it.

ItemBuildr is kind of the yang to Kyoubai’s ying, in that it guarantees that there’s always fresh new items to be traded back and forth.

Written by eviltrout

February 3, 2009 at 8:39 PM

Posted in Home, News, Site Updates

Tagged with , ,

Kyoubai is Live!

We’re delighted to announce that Kyoubai, the official Forumwarz auction house, is live!

To celebrate its birth, we’ve seeded it with two special auctions. Note that for the following links to work, you must have a bookmark to Kyoubai. The quest begins around level 5. All players who meet the criteria for Kyoubai should have a tubmail that opens up system.

Wireless Headset – Currently the most powerful item in the game.

Custom E-Peen(tm) Voucher – Whomever wins this auction will have the ability to create a custom E-Peen(tm).

As always, we’re looking for feedback to improve this product over time. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.

Written by eviltrout

January 16, 2009 at 7:41 PM

Posted in Home, News, Site Updates

Tagged with , ,

Kyoubai: The Forumwarz Auction House

We’re getting pretty close to launching our first major feature since Episode 2 was introduced back in October. It’s called Kyoubai, and it’s an auction house that allows player to auction their items to each other for Flezz.

The name Kyoubai was chosen by the horrible denizens of Flamebate in a series of polls. It is one of several Japanese translations for auction, but it also sounds a lot like Ok, you buy!.

The mascot of Kyoubai will be BidSquid (a cartoon squid with a cowboy hat and a gavel). He’ll be the one who corresponds with you when you are outbid or when you win an auction. He’s going to be designed by the talented artists at Dooomcat. They’re the ones who designed the awesome homepage for Forumwarz, as well as the player class portraits you get when choosing your class.

How the auction house will work:

  • You can select virtually any unequipped item from your inventory and put it up for auction.
  • You set the starting price, as well as a length of time to run your auction (12, 24 or 72 hours).
  • Optionally, you can set a buyout price or a reserve price.
  • The auction house will charge you a listing fee based on the parameters of your auction. Generally speaking: the longer the auction, the higher the fee.
  • Other players can then bid on items. There is a minimum bid amount based on the current bid on an item. However, you can choose a maximum bid that is much higher than the minimum. In this case, your maximum price remains hidden, but you will automatically outbid any bids that are less than your maximum.
  • At the end of the auction, the highest bidder wins the item. If the item does not sell, it is returned via tubmail.

New Items to Trade

  • We plan to introduce new and rare items via the auction house. So keep an eye on it from time to time to see if there’s something you’ve never seen before. You’ll never know what you might find.
  • We are going to be introducing more rare .MOAR files soon. For those with lots of excess flezz but no patience to grind for Pink Floyd type of files, the auction house will be a great tool!
  • We are planning to introduce ItemBuildr in the future, as a way to get a constant feed of new and awesome items into the economy.

When’s it coming out? What’s next on the Forumwarz agenda?

Most of the coding is done. We are mainly waiting on the artwork. If things go well, it will launch by the end of the week. If not, next week for sure!

Afterwards, we’re going to focus on enhancing Forumwarz Domination. There are plenty of discussions going on in the Domination Forum, and we plan to go a long way to address the major issues as well as to make Domination much more fun and open to all players.

Written by eviltrout

January 6, 2009 at 5:23 PM

Forumwarz has topped 100,000 users!

Happy New Year, Forumwarriorz! And congratulations to the very first pwners of 2009: srtop it and Rape Train. (Great names!)

We expect the new year to bring a lot of exciting changes to our site and a bunch of fun new content updates, so keep an eye out.

We also want to announce that Forumwarz has reached a new milestone. As you can guess from this post’s title, we can confirm that Forumwarz has surpassed 100,000 sign-ups!

This is kind of a big deal for us, because we weren’t expecting to grow so quickly. Needless to say, here at Crotch Zombie HQ, the champagne malt liquor has been a-flowin’!

We’ll announce the name of our 100,000th user in Flamebate. He or she will also receive a honking big E-Peen™ — an E-Peen so huge that it will sweep the nation and terrorize its citizens. Or, you know, just a nominal ‘Peen to commemorate the event.

We hope you have a pleasant and pwnful 2009!

Written by eviltrout

January 1, 2009 at 4:59 PM

Posted in Home, News, Site Updates

Tagged with , , ,

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