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Seven Years Later: Kingdom of Loathing [Interview]

KOL: Game MapMMOs seem to be a dime a dozen these days, with the mainstream market getting a new release every other week, be it AAA or Free to Play. But one indie developer has been chipping away at the same game for over seven years now. It’s Zack Johnson, the creator and continual head of Asymetric Publications and the long-standing indie MMO Kingdom of Loathing.

I got a chance to talk to Zack about his game recently, just to see where things are these days and what’s next.

DIYgamer: What’s the general outlook on Kingdom of Loathing these days?

Zack Johnson: We seem to find that any time we try to do any promotion or talk to anyone about it, people say “yeah, I played that five years ago,” and seem to be surprised that it’s still around, that we’re still doing what we’re doing.

Personally, I’ve been playing Kingdom of Loathing for five years. When I first got a desk job out of college, and the hours dragged and my soul shrank, a friend of mine sent me the link over email and suggested I sign up. Shortly thereafter I was born as a stick figure in the Kingdom of Loathing. For anyone new to the title, it’s relatively simple. You’re given a finite amount of turns each day, which can be augmented by eating foods or drinking booze, and once you’re stomach is full, or you drink beyond your alcohol threshold, you’re done for the day; though you can continue chatting it up with other cohorts in the game or gambling. The currency in the game world is literally meat, and a lot of enemies and items in the game are making fun of RPG and MMO tenets that haven’t changed in years. It’s all illustrated in simple sketches and in black and white.

DIYgamer: When did the game launch?

Zack Johnson: You know, I don’t remember. I feel I wasn’t keeping the announcements that early. Late January or early February of 2003. I thought of digging through all my old emails and reconstructing it. I have old backups from March and April of ’03, but it had been around a little while by then. Quarter one 2003…The fact we’ve been around longer than World of Warcraft surprises people sometimes.

DIY: On the same sort of spectrum of “yes you’re still around,” what would you peg as your biggest breakthroughs across the past seven years that have given some momentum to moving the game forward?

ZJ: It was bringing in just enough money to allow me to safely quit my day job after about eighteen months. One of the first things I did was implement Mr. Store. Because before that you just got the Mr. Accessory and that was it. And implementing Mr. Store spiked the revenue tenfold. That was basically the point that I hired everybody that I hired and it’s kind of remained stable since that point.

For anyone curious what Mr. Store is, it’s the arena where players can get a fancy new item of high value each month. To trade in Mr. Store, players need to acquire a Mr. Accessory. These accessories are gifts given when a player donates $10, but they can also be bought and traded in-game. So to get a new item each month, a player will either need to donate the money and trade in their Mr. Accessory, or be savvy enough with the economy or casino to purchase the item in-game and trade it for the monthly super item.

KOL: EquipmentDIY: Weren’t you one of the first games to implement a kind of micro-transaction market like this?

ZJ: At the time I did it micro-transaction didn’t really mean that. I don’t know if its to our benefit or detriment, but I’ve continued to keep it as donations. The less we claim we’re actually selling someone something, the less legal issues we have to deal with. There’s a lot of weird stuff like that in China where people get a lot crazier about it. As an MMO we’re barely big enough to be on any kind of radar. There’s a secondary currency market, people sell meat for real money. It’s not against the rule, we don’t condone it and we’re not going to do anything if you get ripped off. We’re not going to dedicate a lot of resources to trying to put a stop to it. If we had someone whose full time job it was to stop that, it just wouldn’t be worth it. There are a number of people who gives us money out of the goodness of their hearts and want us to succeed, but I’d say ninety to ninety five percent are the ones who want the stuff in-game. When we’ve gone to any industry stuff, there’s a lot of people talking about doing free-to-play MMOs right now. It’s understood there are these rules you can’t break if you’re doing them. One of them is that you can’t have your micro transaction stuff in the same economy as your in-game stuff. The reason we’ve been successful by doing the opposite of that. It lends us a certain measure of credibility what we try to do with everything is that you can definitely play the game for free, you can see and do everything in the game without giving us money. When we design the donation content we definitely keep that in mind. For a long time we thought would be nice to do a premium content, a bonus for those giving us money, it took us a while to figure out a method of doing that. What you get for the money is the ability to generate a sort of ticket for the additional content which you can then trade with people.

There’s free to play “rules” that say you have to separate your cash store from your in-game stuff, that you can’t let people trade that stuff. In a lot of cases you can’t sell anything to the player to get a competitive advantage. It’s a crazy shoot yourself in the foot kind of thing. Breaking both of those rules at the same time has made KoL possible. It does give you an in-game advantage, but because we don’t have the rule that you have to give us money, you can just play the market or farm meat until you get the thing. It doesn’t actually generate a will or create a situation where you have to give us money in order to play.

DIY: How many people do you have working on staff?

ZJ: [There's] me, Kevin, Josh and Riff, which is the core creative team. Then we’ve got Erin the business manager and a contractor programmer who replaced a full time employee who quit and we’ve got another guy who does abuse tracking and customer service stuff. So there’s seven full time people, eight including me. We’ve got a couple of like barely above volunteer moderator coordinators, people who we pay but not a whole lot. Then we’ve got a second team who is working on a second game, three additional people who have nothing to do with KoL.

DIY: Fueled entirely by donations?

ZJ: Yeah.

DIY: How many active players do you have now?

ZJ: It’s hard to say, because you can make multiple amounts. While we do track that for abuse, we don’t count everyone. A business person would look at the way we do things and shake their head. We don’t do nearly enough tracking and metrics kind of stuff as we probably ought to, from a user retention and actually knowing the audience we’re serving standpoint. And this is just largely my laissez faire approach, I’m just making a thing that I like and enjoy working on. As opposed to actually implementing any marketing stuff…In a given day these days there are probably twenty to twenty five thousand accounts being logged into, half to a third of that is probably a good number for active users. We have a high churn, people don’t stick around for this kind of thing forever.
KOL: Sky MapDIY: What about in the beginning? What were the milestones of growth?

ZJ: I didn’t expect it to get to the point it was at eighteen months. I’d worked on a couple of other projects that never got past a few friends. When I started doing it, my goal was to get out my bullshit idea. If enough people knew about it, I could go in for a real job at a game studio. Not an entry level job. [I thought] if I can get one thousand people playing it, it would be a success. [Then it was] holy crap, there are ten thousand people playing it. It’s been a never ending series of astonishments.

The way that we have to develop the game has evolved over time. In the beginning, I, while I was at work, over the course of a break I’d sketch out as zone and go home and draw it. A monster consisted of a name, a description and a single verb for how it attacks you. The game wasn’t difficult o or important to balance. There was a lot of seat of the pants stuff thrown in very quickly. Whereas now, we’ve got a lot more to lose if we introduce something that’s broken.

DIY: What’s the biggest new content?

ZJ: Part of the deal is we’re also trying to get this other game off of the ground. It’s proving to take a lot longer and be more expensive than we were expecting. The focus for the past few months has been to try and get enough stuff ready and in the pipe, so that we can do updates on a fairly regular basis without having to dedicate ourselves fully to KoL. It will take up all the time there is, if we let it. We have so many more workable ideas than we have the time or energy to implement them. The amount of work we can do is infinite.

In the beginning of this year, I said “this is the direction of the first quarter of the year,” I was hoping would be done in the first quarter. Everything takes three times as long as I expect it to, even when I take that into account.

We queued up a year’s worth of traveling trader items. They’re ready to drop in. We’re putting them in on a schedule. We’re doing one-off bursts of content via the maps in the antique store, my goal is to have a year’s worth of those queued up but they’re taking a lot longer than I expected them too. I’m almost done with the next one. I didn’t want to create another monthly deadline for us. I want to try and get a year’s worth of these in the pile, so we can work on the larger project.

We keep developing tools to make it easier to add content to the game, but at the same time we keep making the content more complicated. So that everything we have just takes a lot longer. The pace stays pretty regular, the next big project is finishing up the underwater stuff. Making that an actual coherent real thing with some kind of carrot at the end. A lot of people aren’t messing around with it because it’s not finished, there’s no payoff. We did a tremendous amount of work on it at the end of last year in the hope’s of getting it done before Crimbo. But it didn’t happen.

Crimbo is KoL’s version of the holiday season, in which players are given an advent calendar full of gifts and play out a unique Crimbo-themed storyline each year.

KOL: StatsDIY: What would you say to anyone who hasn’t played the game since the early days? Why Kingdom of Loathing?

ZJ: The advantage Kingdom of Loathing has over other games is just the sheer breadth of content. You either take it as a joke and play it casually, or you realize that there is actually a deeper fundamental gameplay structure and get really into it. The fact that we’ve been really enthusiastically adding stuff to the game for seven years, other games might look prettier, but if you want to play something that gives you a novel experience for as many days as possible, I feel that’s a great strength of our game. Basically all of the work is in there, we’re not replacing the old stuff with shinier stuff or slightly changed stuff. If you’re gone for a year, you probably have a month’s worth of stuff you’ve never seen before.

We’re just starting to send a ping email to people who haven’t logged into their accounts for a long time. Saying “here’s what we’ve been up to.” I feel a little weird about that. A little squeamish about the ethics of sending an email to people, which is ridiculous because everyone does it. “You liked the game once, clearly, if you got bored, here’s what’s changed.”

DIY: What can you say about the new game so far?

ZJ: Basically it’s a single player flash RPG. We’re shooting for an hour, hour and a half to playthrough completely. We’re going for a large scope flash game, but small scope game. We’ve basically got this engine built, we can add content, we can release it as a standalone thing. Gauge interest to see if people like it. I’m pretty pleased with it. I’m excited about the possibility of putting it out there and showing it to people. Theoretically our long term plan for the next few years, is to use the mechanics of the single player version to do an MMO that actually has a revenue model. And doing something similar to KoL because it’s what we know.

DIY: And how would you say it holds your company’s “seal?”

ZJ: We’re trying to take a more serious tone to it. It’s important that the game be funny, but not silly. Mechanically as a single player game it’s a lot more straightforward. KoL grew very organically over a long period of time. I don’t know if it would be better if it came out all at once. Just seeing what kind of things people respond to. Skating the line between challenging and boring. The new game is a lot more skill based and a lot less number based.

The fun that people derive from KoL is in the “I just killed this monster and got all this stuff.” The actual fighting of the monster isn’t that fun. With the new one we’re trying to get a puzzle quest type ethic where the core mechanic is actually fun on its own. This is an idea that’s been brewing for a long long time. It’s interesting to see it play out in actual development. I have notebooks from three or four years ago outlining the rules of the game.

We’re going to DragonCon, so we’re thinking we might do a sneak preview there. If we do that, we’d be wrong not to show it to our people at KoL Con in late September.

In terms of content, there is still a lot to do. Not a lot of writing has been done, we have yet to bring Josh and Riff in. We need to write this new dialogue, doing a lot of this tone setting, a lot of polish stuff is still necessary. in terms of playing from start to finish, it’s probably 75-80% done. Writing has always been easy for us, it’s implementation that’s the actual challenge.

The new game is a little weird because this is the first flash project that our programmer has done. Our artist was not particularly adept, or never that interested in computer art, so this is their first project. The first six months was overcoming a lot of hurdles, the year since has been getting better and more polished with every weekly build.

DIY: What does the future hold?

ZJ: I’m still enjoying doing [Kingdom of Loathing], and I’ll continue to do it as long as there are people interested in it, and I feel everyone else feels that too. Everyone is sort of thrilled this is what we get to do for a living. Just kind of keep on trucking.

Anyone interested in trying the game can sign up (for free) at


Letter From the Editor: April 12, 2010

Sleep is Death 1It was a busy weekend over at DIYgamer, Erik’s post about Machinarium versus Microsoft really seemed to strike a nerve out there. We hope some of you who checked out the news stick around, as we have a lot to offer in the indie game arena when it comes to news, reviews, previews and interviews. And don’t forget our ongoing forum giveaways – we currently have two copies of Plain Sight we’re giving away at the end of the week.

My fiance and I have just begun the overwhelming process of packing up our apartment for our pending move to San Francisco. There is something extremely cleansing about throwing out and recycling junk you realize you’re never going to touch again. In the maelstrom of getting rid of things, I came across two things from GDC last month that I had forgotten about: papercrafts. I had two sitting in a stack of papers that I hadn’t yet touched. One for Warioware D.I.Y. which was all pre-perforated and snapped together within fifteen minutes, and one for Frobot, which I ended up spending more time on than I care to mention. But the end result was this dynamic, blocky duo:

Frobot and Wario

You can note the scraggly cuts and rips all over Frobot, and the shiny perfection of Wario. On that note, while Warioware D.I.Y. is not of itself an independent game, you can certainly create games that perfectly fit our whole philosophy. Has anyone gotten to play around with it yet? A buddy of mine who works for Nintendo swears by the game and was trying to tell me about a text adventure he was creating. Sooner or later I’m finally going to have to settle on a portable gaming device to invest in, because I’ve been without one for quite a while. My old cell phone runs Tower Blocks, but that’s about as “game anywhere” as I get. Warioware D.I.Y. certainly sounds like it has some potential for anyone to create something, so let us know what you’ve been working on.

My preorder for Sleep is Death rolled in on Friday, and around midnight I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to take it for a spin. I agreed, assuming that maybe he had learned a thing or two about playing it (this was before the first two tutorial videos were released). He hadn’t, but suggested just “diving in” might be the best way. It wasn’t, but I will admit that the follies of trial and error on a thirty second counter can be hilarious.The first run through as I hosted consisted of elements appearing and disappearing, failing to get and dialogue text to come out correctly, and after a few screens of chaos, finding the “The End” icon and calling the game. The second run was a little better, as at least I got the characters to talk and managed to move the same characters from scene to scene. I even managed to do some sloppy pixel manipulation to change artistic elements. But all in, it was still chaos. We finally got to switch sides after some IP issues, and I was less overwhelmed by the player side. My controller reacted swiftly to my dialogue choices. I literally spit out my coffee after he took my reference of escaping from a “swarm” and filled the screen with video cameras, which look like bugs, all things considered. Anyone watching us would have called it a failure, but we sure learned a lot. Now to find some spare time and get creating again. The preorders are closed, but you can snag two copies this Friday for $14.

This should be a good week over at DIYgamer. I talked to Zack Johnson, the creator of Kingdom of Loathing, on Friday, all about the state of the game and their new project in the pipeline. That will be going up in the next day or two. James wrote up a good column about the game last week. The two of us have been playing it for a long time. Other than that we have some XBLIG reviews coming up and of course, up-to-date indie news.

Feel free to leave any thoughts of your own here in the comments or over on our forums.


On One’s Own: Kingdom of Loathing

cow00On One’s Own is a column about, you guessed it, independent gaming. The wayward wanderings of DIYGamer’s James Bishop might lead to probing art, gameplay, design, reception or a number of other aspects related to independent games. But you can rest assured that all things indie will be carefully considered on a weekly basis.

This week is a bit of a departure for On One’s Own. Instead of discussing broad, complex topics in and around the indie gaming scene, this particular piece will be focusing on a single indie game: Kingdom of Loathing. Hopefully, this will become a pattern and future editions will look at other games.

So, with that in mind, let us say that you and I, Constant Reader, were to meet while waiting for a bus. We’d get to talking about this and that, begin to explain some of our interests to the other, and generally enjoy the good company. What if, in the course of explaining my interests, I told you that I regularly play an online game that revolves around stick figures?

You might think less of me but then you would definitely be missing out. I would say that I should know, considering that come December I will have been playing for a grand total of six years. As of writing this, I’ve played for approximately 1,920 days and have managed to spend 192,496 turns traversing the Kingdom. Divided out, I have spent an average of about 100 turns per day, which is impressive considering that a character only gets 40 a day naturally.

What is it about the game that drives me back? That’s the most important question. But almost as important, if not as important as, is what makes Kingdom of Loathing such a good, successful independent game? Well, I will get to that, but first, some background information.

KoLMainScreen.previewThe game was officially launched in early 2003 by Zack “Jick” Johnson. Early in the game’s lifespan, he was joined by Josh “Mr. Skullhead” Nite. Though the original game was nowhere near as massive as it has grown to be, it was still enough to have them reach over 300,000 accounts a year later. As time has gone by, they have recruited heavily from the playerbase. Nearly the entirety of the development team, which helps test new content as well as suggests tweaks, were first players and then developers of the game.

With their indie credentials securely in place, it is time to move on and give the big reveal as to what keeps bringing this sad sap back day after day after day: clear vision. Though the updates to the game are spotty at best—try asking someone who has been playing for years about pre-Ascension, for example—they never cease to update. It could be months before they get around to fixing something, but by golly they are going to fix it at some point.

But even that is not the heart of the matter. It is as if they bought a large whiteboard the day they started up the servers and wrote “Mission Statement: Humorous content for all player types” on it. The game’s funny. Hilarious, even. But to different players, different things are amusing. You know what they say: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

And yet they still definitely manage to get close. They owe a major portion of their success to Richard Bartle who, among other things, managed to fairly accurately describe the majority of player types in an article of his titled “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS.” Bartle is no stranger to MUDs, or MMOs, as he helped design the original multi-user dungeon, accurately called MUD.

loathing-bigIn the article, Bartle discusses the essential player paradigms. In the course of a long discussion, some trends arose that, when summarized, those involved agreed were the key ideas. There are four typical characteristics of any given player that they may find fun about a game: achievement within the game context, exploring the game, socializing with others or imposition upon others. Players either want to break a record, find somewhere new, talk to some close friends or kill a bunch of rivals. Most fall into multiple categories.

The article speaks best for itself, and is certainly worth a read or two, as is another analysis of Kingdom of Loathing by Brett Bixler. Sufficed to say, Socializers (Hearts), Achievers, (Diamonds), Explorers (Spades) and Killers (Clubs) are all different styles of play that a person can adopt and experience. They are so important, in fact, that I would argue that they have almost certainly played a direly important role in the prevalence of Kingdom of Loathing.

This is not to say that Jick or Mr. Skullhead somehow have rights to the idea Bartle presented, but they have certainly chosen to focus nearly all updates to the game around his vision of the four major types of players. In any given discussion about game development, you are likely to hear at least two of the four being mentioned casually as reasoning behind this or that change.

As an example, when they were designing the Ascension portion of the game, they realized it catered almost exclusively to Diamonds and Spades. Hearts, however, really had no specific reason to progress any further into the game. To solve this dilemma, they added a Gift Shop that the player could progressively earn more and more items in so that they could purchase and “gift” them to other players.

2008_07_02_kingdomThis is the kind of thought process that seems to go through their minds from time to time. They look at the current game, as best they can from their positions on high, and try to decide what seems to be missing. Did that last update favor the Hearts and somehow disillusion those oft-forgotten Diamonds? Never fear, they know it and are working on pushing something out to correct the balance.

This does not mean that they haven’t been known to avoid certain types of players or completely unbalance things. Jick has readily admitted again and again that he just isn’t a Club and doesn’t understand how a Club operates. The current PvP system leaves something to be desired, and he and the development team know it, but as he’s the one who mostly has to code things the long-sought update is still drifting somewhere in the aether.

The thing is that he knows players want it. They listen to the players and change things, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, in hopes of providing an even better experience. When presented with solid evidence, in say the forums, that showcases an aspect of the design that is either out of wack or somehow outside the parameters of the game, they’re quit to repair the damage. Ask someone about purple snowcones or roofies, if you have the time, as they’re both prime examples of this exact sort of thing.

That’s what I love about the game. Sure, the community’s great, the game’s fun and funny if a bit repetitive and it can be played in a half hour a day if I need to do limit myself. More than that, though, the developers listen. They bend. They’re human and they show it. They run contests, host radio shows and attend conventions. Isn’t that what being indie is about? Being in tune with your audience?


On One’s Own: For the Love of Community

UrbanDeadPlayOn One’s Own is a column about, you guessed it, independent gaming. The wayward wanderings of DIYGamer’s James Bishop might lead to probing art, gameplay, design, reception or a number of other aspects related to independent games. But you can rest assured that all things indie will be carefully considered on a weekly basis.

The community that surrounds the indie game scene is one that leaves most mainstream titles with saliva dripping from their slack jaws. The same can be said of their publishers. But what makes the indie community so, dare I say, special when compared to the more mainstream audience? It is certainly a hard quality to pin down, but the kind of dedication that an indie game enthusiast has is most obvious when taking a look at independent massively multiplayer online games.

Which is a bit of a mouthful. But indie MMOs have been around for a long time, longer even than the term “indie” has been attached to any form of gaming. It all began with programs referred to as multi-user dungeons, or MUDs. They were the precursors to any form of MMO and almost universally designed, implemented and distributed by a single person. There were many variants and some were meant more for other utilities rather than gaming, but derivatives popped up over the years until someone finally made it into a commercially viable product.

But that has not stopped would-be developers from answering the call to make their own versions of whatever fantasy realm they have rocketing around inside their cranium. MUDs were just the beginning, but they showcased the ability of one developer to riff on the mechanics of another. This tradition continues to this day and has bred an entirely new kind of indie game: the browser-based MMO.

udnpWith our subject matter clearly outlined, it becomes only a problem of dissecting the reasons behind the unique community of gamers created around them. It sounds a lot simpler than it actually is. One thing that a number of indie browser-based MMOs do have in common in terms of community is the metagame that surrounds them. Which is exactly as confusing as it sounds.

The metagame is the sphere of knowledge from outside of the strict boundaries of any given game. As an example, if you play chess against your best friend ten times a day and he constantly uses a strategy that ends with a checkmate in four moves and you then deliberately attempt to thwart the same maneuver before there are any obvious signs of it, you are metagaming. Anything used in a game that isn’t expressly from the game, including knowledge, tools and other such things, are considered to fall under the metagame.

Urban Dead is one of the most obvious candidates for both being an offspring from the traditional MUD and for having a compelling metagame. The game is played out in a grid of maps which consist of more grids. Each building has unique names and there only so many malls located in certain suburbs which serve as hubs of activity. Did I mention zombies? The whole idea is that the city of Malton saw an outbreak of zombies which then lead to a quarantine. Not overly creative in terms of premise, but the game continues to be played five years later. Survivors kill zombies while trying to, well, survive and zombies attempt to bring the “barhah” and eat “harmanz.”

In true indie fashion, it was designed, programmed and implemented by a single person: Kevan Davis. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the stats certainly are. The frontpage tells us that there are “1,162,854 dead and rising” and Davis has briefly stated in his online resume that there are 40,000 or more human-controlled characters out there. The first is probably just a counter of sorts with the second being more of an active number, but either way the enormity of it is a bit staggering.

KoLMainScreen.previewPeople have played Urban Dead for years even though content updates have been few and far between. The last actual update to gameplay was months ago and it was almost certainly a tweak to preexisting code. It isn’t all that unusual in the game to wander around and spot characters sitting on thousands of XP because they are already maxed out. To a person new to the game, it might seem incredibly repetitive and not worth the time invested. While it might be incredibly repetitive, the time invested is really only worth what you make of it. The game isn’t that interesting but if you become involved in the metagame, your options expand drastically.

See, Urban Dead has been a simplistic experience since beginning in 2005. It didn’t take long for people to get tired of the old paradigm of shoot, kill, revive and shoot again. As is natural in these kinds of games, people began killing each other even when they weren’t supposed to do so. Player-killers, or PKers, began to manifest in greater and greater numbers. That is, until someone decided to beat them at their own game.

Players took it upon themselves to create a tool to track, kill and then ‘rehabilitate’ PKers in Malton. In a lot of ways, it is just a justification for other players to take part in the PKing but that doesn’t seem to faze those involved. The Rogues Gallery, as it’s called, is a tool designed to allow for players to report the slaying of innocents, their own bounty claims and track the last known locations for any of those on the list. Even though the tool itself is down at current, the forum is still going strong with reports for all such things.

And it’s not like Urban Dead is alone in its metagame. Other browser-based MMOs, like Dark Grimoire or Kingdom of Loathing, share its MUD ancestry and multiple projects being created by fans. The Kingdom of Loathing actually has a multitude of players who have since become developers after creating scripts, sites and various tools for the community. They vary in usefulness but, as an example, if you ever want to know what pop culture references are being made, there’s a site for that.

cow00Kingdom of Loathing is one of those rare sites that allow scripting, bots and other such shenanigans as long as it doesn’t produce any noticeable lag. As long as the bot clicks at about the rate a human would, all is kosher. So a number of amateur and professional developers have taken to building Greasemonkey, Java and Perl scripts to play the game for them. Machines that play games for us sure sounds like progress to me.

This, in a roundabout manner, is how we come to the conclusion that the indie community will often see a game and actually think, “Huh, I could totally do that.” This isn’t at all scientific and mostly conjecture, but I would wager that the majority of players actually have the game designer mentality and a smaller number actually have the ability to implement their own functions. This leads to a certain appreciation on a level that most mainstream audiences don’t have with larger titles: a peer to peer one.

So it’s not really a quality of the players but more of a mindset. They don’t view it entirely as a producer-consumer relationship but instead view it as one colleague would the work of another. This is also why there are so many derivatives of these games out there. Urban Dead certainly has its share of knockoffs, even though it is fairly derivative of an older vampire game itself, and Kingdom of Loathing actually has a number of fan-made games that experiment in the same style. Even if one out of ten is a success, the unique relationship will continue. And that’s what makes the indie scene what it is.