GDC: Realm of the Mad God Developers Talk Success Amidst Change

Realm of the Mad God is a Flash-based fantasy role-playing game. It looks like a classic 8-bit top dungeon crawler, handles like an arcade shooter, and features permanent character death. Despite breaking all sorts of massively multiplayer RPG conventions, it has nonetheless has managed to collect a sizable -- and profitable -- player base.

The game is a collaboration between the developers at Wild Shadow Studios and Spry Fox; the latter are the minds behind Triple Town and Steambirds: Survival. Realm of the Mad God has a growing, bustling audience, but success wasn’t always in the cards. When the game debuted it was saddled with a paltry 12.7% one-day retention rate – gamers were checking out the game, but not staying for very long. At GDC this week Spry Fox’s Dave Edery discussed how the developers managed to completely overhaul the Real of the Mad God experience, without losing their audience.

Edery credited Mad God’s successful overhaul and its subsequent to success to extreme rapid interaction. In just a month, Spry Fox and Wild Shadow took a relatively simple game and totally overhauled the monster and boss mechanics, the power and abilities of character classes, and the progression system a new character experiences. These changes led to a drastically improved experience for new players but pissed off the experienced player base that wanted things to stay the same.

Tinkering with a game’s mechanics is always challenging, but the problem is magnified with active, massively multiplayer games. When you drastically change a complex game system, you’re likely to break as many things as you fix. Edery notes that they had “totally screwed up the balance of the game” with many of their initial changes. The game’s forum users were livid. But since the developers were iterating so quickly, they were able to repair much of the damage, tweaking mechanics and character behaviors until they found a veritable sweet spot. And it paid off – that one-day retention metric climbed to 37.6%, which means many more players sticking with the experience.

If you want to try Realm of the Mad God yourself, you can head over to the game’s website or grab a downloadable version of the game from Steam.

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