2020-01-10

The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games

The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


When it comes to the oldest MMORPG, people usually move the names of "Genesis Online" and "Meridian 59". But if you go through the Guinness Book of World Records, a work called "Furcadia" has won the top spot in the "operating hours" category.


In the spring of 1990, Origin Systems' office was noisy, several old Apple II and C64 computers rattled, and employees were busy preparing for the launch of Genesis 6. But David Shapiro, who has been working here for 5 years, is a little lazy, and he is tired of those "hack and slash" DND games.


In his opinion, when the battle elements are incorporated into the gameplay, these contents can easily become the dominant, and sometimes lead to the "bottom upside down" of what the author wants to express. Looking back at the early role-playing design of MUD, David believes that the emotional expression of the game is based on one more important thing-user-created content.


Not long after, he submitted his resignation to his boss, and then nested in his small room to create the world of "Ficatia" with a few friends. Instead of focusing on fighting and violence, this work focuses on social relations and community building, and strongly encourages players to create their own game maps through system tools.


Interestingly, its shape and gameplay have hardly changed since 1996. But today, more than 20 years later, David, who has become a bearded boy from Bai Jing, suddenly realizes that Fikatia, like himself, has ushered in an inevitable "middle-aged crisis."


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


In 2009, David promoted "Ficatia" at Anthrocon


Home of the middle-aged


Like the Disney animations of the 80's, Fikadia's chronology feels from the moment it enters the game. Along with strange animal calls, a green dragon with a purple mane on its head greets you, and the bright colors are filled with a 640 * 480 landing window. Immediately afterwards, your character and the guiding NPC sit down the purple flowers, and at the end of the river are a few rainbows, everything is full of fairy tales.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


It's hard to imagine that in such a young game, the main players are middle-aged people in their 30s and 40s.


Majas is one of them. When he was 11 years old, he searched for Giga Pets (similar to Tamako) and became a player of "Ficatia". Later, as an amateur art artist, he painted materials for the game community for free. It has now been 18 years. Although Majas is not a full-time developer, he has no doubt about the game: "It's like another home on the Internet."


From the most intuitive experience, Fikatia is a large chat room, or a simulated "society." The map is full of Avatar images of players and NPCs. Similar to a traditional 45 ° top-down game, you can control the movement of characters and interact with objects, houses or various environments. However, although seemingly mediocre, it has a considerable depth of role-playing and community atmosphere.


Because users are strongly encouraged to generate content, the setting of a single avatar is very particular. For example, players can edit a written description of their own, and someone will insert a link to a third-party website in the text box to expand the character setting. And the character's avatar is not limited to the default settings in the game. People can even draw pixel pictures by themselves, and present them as a unique label.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


"Lonely warrior, nowhere to go ..." The player's personal description is quite rich (2007 version)


In addition to the content of the game itself, the art editor, map creation program, and skin editor are also fully open. These free tools can construct a virtual space called a "Dream", meet up with friends, set up role-playing scenarios, or create a multiplayer task. The materials involved include characters' skins, objects, special effects, lighting, music, walls, and floors to meet a variety of uses.


What's more, David actually wrote a custom scripting language called "Dragon Speak" to increase the interactivity of dreams. It may be likened to the redstone circuit in "Minecraft", from making simple "automatic gates" to complex "chess" can be done through scripting languages. To some extent, as long as the player has the ability, advanced robot-based interaction is also officially acquiesced.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


Create a dream


The groundbreaking setting makes the world of "Ficatia" not monotonous, and many themed dreams around fantasy plots emerge as the times require. Popular culture, as well as the current fiery movie and TV elements are introduced, and you can play the role of hotel owner or parcel merchant. Some players are not satisfied with the manifestation of the game itself, and upload related fanfiction to Deviantarts to share with people.


A peculiar phenomenon is that the original audience of this game is indeed young. In David's words, he likes Sonic and Bunny Bunny very much, so he has created cute humanoids.


But after 23 years, with the increase of users' age, people began to spontaneously set up dreams with 18 banned content, coupled with the so-called "Furry Feitsh" culture in Europe and the United States, Furrabian Nights) does have more restrictive role-playing, which has brought new popularity and income to the game, which is also one of the reasons why Ficadia can continue to operate.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


Event area for plush night


The novel genre, the creativity of adults, and the scattered value-added services make it possible to obtain a small amount of income enough to survive. By 2008, the number of users of Ficadia reached its peak, with approximately 75,000 active users. Officials also promote large-scale volunteer projects from time to time, and those experienced players are welcome to help the community review and deal with technical issues in the game.


The plight of middle-aged people


However, in 2008, it can be said that MMORPG is a watershed in which the MMORPG is experiencing a decline. Good quality online games such as "Aion Tower" and "The Lord of the Rings OL" stand out. . But in the 10 years since then, player interest in this category has been declining. By 2016, there were only about 15,000 active players in Ficadia.


In a recent survey, Fox, a member of the community's management team, stated:


"There may be 600 players online, but this number is also mixed with robots and more open players, which means that the number of online players is less than 300 or even less. Before Kickstarter's event began, the number of online players The average is 2,000 people. If you consider the same issues mentioned above, you should actually consider them about 1,000. "

Fox's "event" is actually a crowdfunding campaign launched by David on Kickstarter in 2012. The purpose is to remake the picture of "Ficatia" from 8-bit to 32-bit and improve Many issues such as UI and client make it more modern, so the new version is called "Second Dream".


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


"Second Dream" Scene Design


The minimum amount of crowdfunding was 55,000 US dollars. I didn't expect to raise 106,000 US dollars. In addition to the investment and rewards from official channels, the final amount of this fund exceeded 250,000 US dollars. A lot.


Many people have considerable expectations for this fundraising. The survival of Fikatia has largely depended on two factors, financial sustainability and player interest. Most of the funding for the development team comes from player subscriptions and direct donations, which is a bit similar to contemporary free-to-play models. The "whale player" will find every way to get a unique pixel image and buy jewelry items such as Valentine's Day roses, snowballs-all at the cost of real gold and silver.


But until 2013, the client of this game was still the old specification of 1996, and the official relied too much on user-generated content, ignoring that he also needed to invest in the content, which caused contradictions, and the constant loss of users meant The game must change.


However, "Second Dream" was supposed to be a self-help to continue the life of the work, but it did not expect to stimulate the player's resistance. Although images from 8-bit to 32-bit have evolved to be commendable, on the other hand, the lack of some system functions has also been blamed. For example, even the basic character editing cannot be completed by the functions in the program, you have to run to use the official management system: a set of very complicated web page editor.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


The character image of Fikatia needs to be edited through the web


There is a lot of questioning on social media. Where is that $ 250,000 spent?


There have been no personnel changes since the introduction of crowdfunding, and a programmer behind the scenes is still a college student. The community is also full of volunteers and often supplies content for free. In the eyes of people, many of the resources in "Ficatia" come from "white". A new map, some new character images, some new props, email link accounts, and more secure login protocols. These changes seem to be minimal. Some people think that their salary and beliefs should not be invested in them.


Even the players have diverged internally. Hardcore fans with more than 10 years of experience in gaming, but they do not want the game to move closer to more modern works. They are afraid of losing the original charm, and they are noisy for a while.


Perseverance of middle-aged people


From the official perspective of "Ficatia", the real situation is far from the player's guess. Executive producer Emerald Kaiten once said frankly: "Without modernization, we can't survive, and that's what it is."


Although a considerable amount of money was raised with the help of Kickstarter, upgrading decades-old online games is not easy, and new members are afraid to face a lot of old code that has never been seen before. Taking the initial design of the server as an example, the account needs to log in with a clear text password, and behind it is an insecure INI file. Just upgrading the hardware may cause the player character to be lost.


The revolutionary image is not just a matter of adding a few colors. In order to ensure that when the resolution is upgraded from 640 * 480 to 1280 * 960, the pixels are not stretched, causing the picture to become blurred. Their solution is to redraw some elements to make them into It was twice as big. And the full-time staff behind "Ficatia" is only 10 or so, and it is difficult for them to meet the "full expectations" of players.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


For 23 years, David has been helpless with the growth of the game:


"Some people say they hope to come to Dragon's Eye, the studio of Ficadia, but they do n’t realize that Dragon ’s Eye is more widely known as" My Home "...

It is always true that we are independent developers, not 3A game developers. "Ficatia" was originally completed by two people within a year, with a budget of 50,000 US dollars. It is impossible to make a 3A MMORPG without hundreds or tens of millions. Players sometimes compare our games to 3A games, which is a delight. But in fact, under the same conditions, we spent 250,000 US dollars to do more than the 3A project. "

Considering that a developer's monthly salary is $ 10,000, plus the cost of equipment and software, if there is a team of 10 people behind the "Second Dream", all the funds Kickstarter receives can only last for a few months, But they continued to develop for two and a half years.


The open community and the gamification of production tools have created an equal relationship between producers and users in the long-term development. Officials are no longer the controller behind the high wall, and their avatars can even be seen in the game: David is often referred to as Dr.Cat by players, and the writer of the server code is a fox.


The "middle-aged crisis" of older developers and 23-year-old online games


The knowledge and skills people learn from the game will eventually be fed back to the game, and their growth is obvious to all. In contrast, the less-than-perfect "second dream" can easily be seen as the result of laziness, lack of initiative, and long-term dependence on user-generated content.


However, no matter whether the "Second Dream" is satisfactory, no matter where this middle-aged game will go, it is already the ultimate place for those niche and older generations of "geek players". No choice. In the eyes of outsiders, the controversy surrounding "Ficatia" is nothing more than the sound of a stone falling from the ancient ruins.