the world of interactive game publishing, success can be hard to come by unless
you have deep pockets. And, the boutique massive multiplayer online (MMO)
interactive game niche is just about the toughest market to crack, particularly
for programmers working on their own.
Independent game developer Gene Endrody, a likely inspiration to solo
programmers everywhere, figuratively and literally quit his day job and, against
all odds, hit the jackpot in the massive multiplayer online gaming (MMOG) space.
By following his dreams and using Adobe technology to make them come true,
Endrody now heads up Maid Marian Entertainment, a company that produces Sherwood
Dungeon, one of the world's most popular 3D, browser-based MMOG done in
Maid Marian Entertainment Inc. is a leading developer of next generation
web-based games specializing in community oriented multiplayer games. Immersive
3D virtual worlds, where players explore and interact with other players around
the globe, are delivered to any web browser. By clicking on a link, without any
retail box to purchase, total user engagement is at hand.
"What I do is build massive multiplayer games that deliver an experience close
to that of a traditional retail game—but that you play right in your web
browser," says Endrody. "Adobe Director software and Shockwave Player made it
possible for a small independent company like mine to distribute games without
jumping through retail hoops or competing with the larger console game
publishers." Endrody's story is truly a David vs. Goliath fantasy about one
person who starts something in his basement and, on his own terms, turns it into
MaidMarian.com attracts over 1.3 million unique visitors a month with up to
4,000 simultaneous players at a time logged into the multiplayer games. The
lion's share of visitors play Sherwood Dungeon, a multiplayer game which Endrody
views as somewhat of an ongoing experiment where he continuously tests new ideas
as well as the creative possibilities that Director software and Shockwave
Player afford. Sherwood Dungeon is a free 3D fantasy world where thousands of
players come together to defend their honor in combat and join a community of
- Delivered web-based game with nearly similar impact of traditional boxed product
- Retained small file size for fast download
- Provided one-click game entry with no additional downloads or installs
- Remained small, independent, and profitable
- Benchmarked 4,000 simultaneous users and 1.3 million unique monthly visitors
- Established successful viral marketing model with high click-through rates
Delivering the third dimension
With limited programming experience under his belt, Endrody got excited about
working in Director software when 3D capabilities were included in a release.
Now, he models and animates characters in his 3D modeling tool of choice—
Autodesk Maya software—and imports the 3D art into Director. Using Director, he
triggers the appropriate animation based on the game logic and is always mindful
of file size, so the characters can walk, fight, and perform other game heroics.
Texture maps for the 3D models, icons, and other user interface elements for the
games are generated using Adobe Photoshop.
By nature, web games are limiting because of download size—which isn't
necessarily a bad thing for an independent developer because it effectively
levels the playing field between the big players and the ankle biters. "Having
an army of artists and vast cash reserves doesn't give a large developer much of
an advantage when the game needs to be small enough to run within a web
browser," says Endrody.
"I love Adobe Director. There's no other product that can deliver hardware
accelerated 3D multiplayer games to a large installed base of users on a web
page," says Endrody. The potential for web-delivered boutique MMOs is huge,
according to Endrody. For him, the vision of players clicking on one web link
and instantly entering a fantasy world of knights and castles, where players
from all over the world can hang out and slay dragons together, is what keeps
him creating immersive game worlds.
Fantasy come true
During an interview, Endrody discloses that he is a card carrying, fantasy fan
who played Dungeon & Dragons as a teenager, read fantasy novels, and made a few
attempts at writing medieval adventure games on his Commodore 64. Back in 1996,
he reserved the MaidMarian URL with a vague notion that working in the public
domain would be a good strategy for a small independent developer. "In fact,
MaidMarian.com has always allowed me to make a living with one foot in a fantasy
world, thanks to Director and Shockwave Player," says Endrody.
Shockwave Player, according to Endrody, is the most popular way of delivering
games online, and for good reason. Other delivery mechanisms do not provide a
satisfying 3D experience, cannot deliver the capabilities required for full
scale massive multiplayer gaming, and do not have adequate installed bases to
engage players instantly sans barriers. "If someone has ever played a Shockwave
game before, odds are that they will be able to play mine." Maid Marian
Entertainment has four game servers running the Shockwave Multiuser Server under
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 on the back end, which handle and relay all
information about how one player is using the game to all other players in the
Despite Endrody's organic programming style, the basic Director architecture of
Sherwood Dungeon's game code has evolved to become quite robust. "Often by doing
creative things to the underlying systems, new features become not only
possible, but also fast and elegant—much better than using brute force to
shoehorn new features into a game," he says.
Aligned with Endrody's belief in keeping things simple, Maid Marian
Entertainment has succeeded in making money without much of a formal sales or
marketing mechanism. The advertising revenue model is "quite viral," says
Endrody. "Anyone who wants to can put the game on their web site." With 10
million ad impressions a month and some of the highest click through percentages
of any online content, the revenue model is very successful.
Web games have an uncanny ability to market themselves virally through blogs,
portals, e-mail, forums, instant messenger, and social networks. Anyone who can
provide a link and say, "Try this cool game," becomes a distribution partner.
Players can go from discovering the game exists to playing it in literally 20
seconds. Sherwood Dungeon and MaidMarian.com are designed to get players into
the game quickly with an absolute minimum number of mouse clicks. "The trick is
not to mess that up," says Endrody.
For Endrody, the combination of the viral distribution and ad-based revenue
model is a winner. Once Sherwood Dungeon hit 4,000 simultaneous players, it was
clear that MaidMarian.com would be very successful on ad revenue alone. "Whether
developers like to admit it or not, the way a game makes money is a major
influence on its design," he adds.
In true community fashion, where feedback from Sherwood Dungeon users greatly
influences how the game evolves, Endrody sees himself continuing to leverage
Director and Shockwave Player to stay small, independent, and profitable. His
belief in Director as a viable development platform for 3D web gaming, and his
comfort level with the software, are second only to his sense of attachment to
the Director developer community. "In all, I have confidence that Adobe products
will enable me to continue to revolutionize the way massive multiplayer games
are delivered and stay at the top of my game (no pun intended) for the
foreseeable future," he says.