GameLayers, founded in 2007, has a fairly young role-playing game called Dictator Wars. Currently the game sits at around 17,000 monthly active users and has been growing at a somewhat steady rate. It’s a Facebook app of your standard mafia game design, albeit with an entertaining theme — and, there’s an interesting backstory to this game’s creation.
It comes with a few new features such the separation of single player and group missions (Missions vs. Foreign Affairs), and some improvements to usability. For example, if you need an item for a mission, it will pop up for purchase without having the player go to the in-game store. However, this is something we have been seeing more of lately in other games as well. Overall the standards are all the same: Do missions, level up, fight other players, consume energy, and buy land. Discounting its satirical art style and RPG improvements, it all looks very familiar. But is this a bad thing? Over time, that answer has evolved to “no.”
This conclusion was driven home by a post by GameLayers’ CEO Justin Hall regarding the history behind Dictator Wars. For those unfamiliar with GameLayers, one of their early projects was an internet browsing MMO called PMOG or “Passively Multiplayer Online Game” for the Firefox browser. In a nutshell, players used a toolbar to find treasures and traps left behind by other players as they browsed the internet. As an example, one could go to CNN’s website, and leave something behind for another player who visits the same website to find.
It sounds like an interesting idea, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there were a number of problems with PMOG (beyond just the dull name, which was later changed to “The Nethernet”). Perhaps the most prevalent of all issues was that the game had no clear goal. The game was too open ended, and with no direction, a new player, especially a casual one, isn’t likely going to play for very long.
The game was also built on Firefox, a mere budding browser at the time. Not only that, but GameLayers had decided to try and build out its own social network around PMOG. Though that sounds like madness now with the distribution power of Facebook and Twitter, consider that this game was started back in 2006, a year before GameLayers was even officially founded.
As for monetization, according to Hall, that came late too. GameLayers had intended to utilize virtual goods transactions, which was an excellent call considering where that market is today, but it he says it was integrated too late. By 2009, the monetization growth was just too slow, and PMOG was shut down.
As disheartening as shutting down a game can be, this whole process is what led to the creation of the steadily growing Dictator Wars. From the drawbacks of PMOG, GameLayers learned that if there is any one thing to take away from the experience it is that the casual player, the social player, is going to want to know what to do within five minutes or less. They want to know how to play and where to go, which leads back to the earlier commentary on familiar RPGs.
With Dictator Wars on Facebook, players have clear goals in an environment that they already understand. This made the game more user friendly, and with the social features like messaging and friend connections that GameLayers had previously tried to create. Moreover, this time around monetization was included right from the start, allowing for fiscal growth from day one of launch.
The experiences of GameLayers has taught a lot of lessons to the social space, and the resilience and drive of the company is certainly one to be respected.
You can check out all the opinions of Justin Hall here.