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Gameogre Interview with Gene the Creator of Sherwood Dungeon

Discussion in 'MMO Interviews' started by GameOgreVideos, Nov 30, 2010.

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  1. GameOgreVideos

    GameOgreVideos Game Ogre YouTube Channel GameOgre Developer

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    Gameogre recently had the chance to talk to Gene about the game he single handedly created and that has grown into a 1,000,000+ player base! His story is quite unique and inspiring. The game itself is much much better than what you would expect from a 1 man team.

    Sherwood Dungeon is a free-to-play, 3D multiplayer world of battle and conquest. It was created and is ran by one guy named Gene, an indie developer, who has also kept the game strong for the past 6 years by himself. There is no download or registration required – you play the game right in your browser.

    Gameogre: Have there been difficulties associated with maintaining a browser-based game with just one person for the past six years?

    Gene: Sherwood didn’t always look like it does today. I started making small shockwave based games in the evenings and weekends ten years ago while I was working in the console game industry. These were just small, fun hobby projects and there were no grand plans or aspirations. Sherwood grew out of that and I didn’t have any expectations other than it seemed like a fun creative and technical challenge. Because the game is always in active development, features are added in response to player feedback or my interests at the time. There was never a point to feel overwhelmed because I only worried about the next feature and could let Sherwood evolve organically. I’ve been blessed with how much success Sherwood has enjoyed in the first six years of operation and I’m grateful to the players who have supported the game.



    Gameogre: For those who aren’t familiar with Sherwood Dungeon, can you tell us more about what the objective of the game is and what general gameplay entails?

    Gene:
    Sherwood doesn’t really fit the established traditional mold. The vast majority of fantasy MMO's tend to use a psedo-turn based approach to combat. Because you’re cueing the next attack during the cool down period of the previous one, you may not recognize these as turns at first. As players level, their skill tree expands and choices become increasingly complex. They are rewarded largely based on the hours dedicated to the game and their ability to crunch numbers. This makes the traditional MMO more of a cerebral strategy based game than an action oriented skill based one. For better or worse, I wanted to make combat in Sherwood feel more in your face and differentiate it from other MMOs. This is why we don’t use the traditional tank, DPS, healer trinity and focus more on an action RPG style of melee combat. My intention was to make combat a little like Street Fighter, where timing and practice count but XP Level does not. In this way any player is a potential opponent for any other player and you're not running around looking for opponents of the same XP Level. This also removes the pressure of having to spend many hours dedicated to getting some arbitrary stats in the game to say you’re god like.

    Gameogre: Can you tell us more about your background in computer graphics and digital media? What other things have you worked on besides Sherwood Dungeon?

    Gene: I’ve been working with computer games, music, video and animation in all sorts of vaguely related jobs over the last 25 years. I was a 3D modeling instructor and department head for over ten years, first at the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound and later with BCIT’s New Media Center. That’s where my interest and early experiments with virtual worlds started. I was asked by Radical Entertainment to help them make the transition from 3D Studio Max to Maya. They hired me on as a Technical Art Director and over the next six years I absorbed as much as possible about every aspect of making games. I worked on a variety of titles with them including The Hulk, CSI and Crash Tag Team Racing. In my free time I was experimenting with text MUDs and VRML. I was lucky enough to get on the beta for the first version of Shockwave 3D. 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 my early projects for a People’s Choice Award at Macromedia’s User Conference in 2001 and provided some of the early web traffic. My first attempt at an independent commercial offering was a game called Ratinator which launched with Shockwave.com in 2002. Ratinator was similar to Gauntlet but you were a rat in a maze blowing away household pests with a big gun. Because many of my early experiments were themed 3D chatrooms, a user community formed around my website MaidMarian.com. They were the ones that really encouraged me to tackle a fantasy MMO.


    Gameogre:
    Sherwood Dungeon has really been going strong for 6 years. There must be an incredible amount of work that goes into the game since there are over 1 million players. What is the one thing that has allowed you and Sherwood Dungeon to become so successful?

    Gene: What’s the secret sauce? I try not to dictate or micromanage how players play the game and have always treated Sherwood more like a sandbox. I throw in loosely linked features that can be adapted for different purposes and through player created emergent activity, cool things just happen. As a solo developer I have to prioritize development time and generally I don’t do anything players can do for themselves. They need me to model dragons and build the world. They don’t need me to make a guild ranking system or dictate how raids work. That’s their problem. Something magical happens once players get into the mindset. We have a vibrant community of warring clans, tournaments, raids and a complex social structure. The game itself is relatively simple but the game within the game created by the players is not.

    Gameogre: How has Sherwood Dungeon’s money making model changed over the years to accommodate an increasing amount of players?

    Gene: Historically Sherwood has generated revenue from unobtrusive leaderboard ads that run under the game window. After a downturn in the ad market and a great deal of soul searching I asked the player community in 2008 how they would feel about introduction of paid pets into the game. It is important not to be able to purchase a competitive advantage over other players so pets do not influence any of the PVP aspects of the game. I wanted to be clear with them that this wasn’t going to be a slippery slope towards other paid items in the game. All the core elements are completely free of charge and when we say “free to play†I didn’t want this perceived as loss leader intended to lure you into the purchase of virtual currency. Pets have been an important part of revenue since then and as we’ve promised to players, this is as far as we plan to go with paid features.

    Gameogre: Can you give some specific examples of how the players themselves influence the development and improvement of Sherwood Dungeon?

    Gene: Sherwood was an experiment with a more open development process where players could see the game evolve over time and participate in the process with their feedback. That sounds more official than it is in practice and really it’s just a bunch of people talking about Sherwood and one of them happens to be making the game. No player community speaks with one voice, so it’s always a tricky balancing act. Articulate ideas from individuals seem to have the most influence as opposed to some kind of design by committee process. These ideas can be as simple as “I’d like to be able to ride my wolf as a mount.†or “There should be a ship in the game.†We regularly get edit screenshots submitted by players on the facebook fan page with variations on MOBs or customizations for avatars. I can recall four of these in the last six months that made it into the game. I asked for feedback on possible changes to the economy in Sherwood. This included a long explanation on game economies and gold sinks to get players thinking in the right direction. One player submitted a proposal he detailed on a website with a system for merchants laid out for an entire town. I didn’t end up using it as designed, but the debate that followed lead to the introduction of a new diamond currency and merchant types in the Midnight Glade expansion about six months ago.

    Gameogre: We’ve already seen the addition of the pet and mount system that’s been responsible for practically one-third of Sherwood Dungeon’s revenue. What additional changes do you have in store for the game, whether it is tied to revenue or not?

    Gene: 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 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 fan page, particularly when I ask for feedback on aspects of the game. Recently we’ve had the addition of the pirate ship to the game and an expansion of pet features. Many pets can be summoned to help you in combat, ridden as a mount or if you ever wanted to explore our virtual world as a wolf or a dragon, you can now transform your character into the shape of your pet. We also plan on adding additional pets over the coming months. We constantly have to retool and update the game to keep it current and take advantage of faster hardware and graphics cards. In the year ahead issues around the core game engine and graphic fidelity of the game will be a focus.

    Gameogre: Have you ever thought about selling Sherwood Dungeon to a larger publisher who could work on it with more resources and a larger team?

    Gene: Working in console games taught me a great deal about the games industry and I’ve seen enough to know that being tied to a publisher is a full contact sport. The games industry runs on the feudal system. Money comes from leveraging power and the people making the games are not the ones in charge. I’m fiercely independent, perhaps to a fault, and I’ve done everything I can not to play by their rules. I don’t really want to work on a multi-million dollar MMO. There are plenty of those to go around. I’d rather make a small hobbyist MMO on a shoestring budget that defies the odds and is done for the right reasons. Sherwood succeeds because it’s small, very independent and beholden to no one but its’ players. I’m very grateful not to be knee deep in all the corporate nonsense that most developers have to endure and I believe players appreciate the honest approach. 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’re not beholden to investors, publishers or distributors, don’t do work for hire, don’t owe anyone money, own 100% of the IP and we’re profitable. I’m very aware of how lucky that makes us.

    Gameogre: Is there anything else you would like our community to know about Sherwood Dungeon or yourself?

    Gene:
    Part of the reason for Sherwood’s longevity is the grassroots nature of it. Players seem to find it a refreshing change to play an MMO developed by a guy in his basement rather than a large faceless corporation. We don’t require registration or personal information and the game is running in your browser within a minute. Just enter a character name and you’re in. We have the lowest barrier to entry of any MMO. 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.
     
  2. Julein

    Julein Idiocracy At Its Best The Pit

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    that guy is awesome
     
  3. GameOgreVideos

    GameOgreVideos Game Ogre YouTube Channel GameOgre Developer

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    Yeah its a pretty cool story, the game looks really decent as well
     
  4. nucToon

    nucToon New Member

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    very nice interview good read
     
  5. Sail338

    Sail338 New Member The Pit

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    Nice Interview
     
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