MUD2.COM will celebrate its first anniversary at the end of January. It may be hard to believe but it'll be exactly one year ago on January 31 that Kesmai shut down their "DOS" (sic!) games and I opened this site in a mad scramble.
A lot has happened since, and I must say, I found the experience mostly enjoyable. Most significantly, I was delighted to see mud2.com stand on its own ever since we began charging for access. It is now a self-supporting venture that generates enough revenue to cover the costs of a high-speed Internet connection, and I can even send royalty cheques occasionally to Richard Bartle, MUD2's author (and yes, I make some money off it, too.) However, our success can at best be called modest (and I am very kind to myself) in one key area: our ability to attract new players. Fewer new players signed up than I would have hoped for, and many of these are not really new players at all, but veterans of MUD2 who decided to give our site a try.
Not that MUD2 has it easy on the Internet today. On the one hand, the very genre of text games is under relentless attack by ever more sophisticated multimedia titles. On the other hand, the Internet offers hundreds, if not thousands of text multi-player games for free. Clearly, we must be able to prove two things: first, that text games are worth playing because they offer unique value to the sophisticated player, and second, that MUD2 stands out from the crowd of Muds as a game of unparalleled depth, quality, and sophistication.
Richard certainly does his part to make sure that MUD2 continues to remain a valuable game. The MUD2 code base is constantly updated with bug fixes and new features; major versions are installed every few months. They also undergo rigorous testing here at mud2.com with the help of volunteer wizzes, to ensure that by the time the new code is installed on the production system, no major "show-stopper" bugs remain. But having a high quality game is just one side of the marketing equation: perhaps even more important is to get word out of its existence.
Word-of-mouth has traditionally been an important source of new players for us, as demonstrated by this photo of a van that belongs to Starquest the wizard (thanks, SQ!) But, as recent months proved, it is not enough. Therefore, I decided to take the first big step and purchased some commercial Internet advertising. It appears to have a noticeable effect on the popularity of the MUD2 Web page; while during the previous three month period, the Web page had approximately 1,400 visitors, there were an additional 1,100 visits in November alone. Will these visits transform into more subscriptions to our game? Only time will tell.
Of course having a Web page is not enough, even if it is well advertised. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for new subscriptions is the price. After all, here we are with what is really just a game, and we expect to charge 20-50% more than what people pay to their Internet provider! Sure, MUD2 is worth more than all the junk on the Internet together but only us old-timers know that. Sure, the current price is an absolute bargain if you compare it to the days of $12.30 per hour for British Legends on CompuServe, but only real "addicts" can appreciate that. All a newcomer sees is an outrageous price for a product that has free competition.
Undoubtedly something must be done about it. One solution is to offer free subscriptions on a trial basis, something I've been doing ever since the site opened. Another solution is unfortunately less simple to implement: soon, mud2.com will start to offer an alternative to the monthly flat rate, hourly charging. There's no release date for this feature yet, nor has the price been set (although I expect it will be in the vicinity of one Canadian dollar per hour, or about 71 cents US at current exchange rates.) I will keep you posted with the details, but there's one thing I can say with certainty: present subscriptions will not in any way be affected and the flat monthly rate will not be jeopardised.
Another obstacle to a quick and painless sign-on is the requirement to e-mail a human operator, me that is. Many potential players prefer not to communicate with a human operator at all, at least not until they feel somewhat more comfortable with the game. So what's the alternative? A Web-based sign-on procedure of course. This is also in the works, although there are a number of logistical issues involved, ranging from the design of the sign-on pages to the secure recording of account details and implementing a secure Web server. Once again, I'll keep you posted if/when this feature becomes operational.
Lastly, I have received an increasing number of frustrated e-mail messages asking things like "What is telnet?" Or "Where do I type mudguest?" Unquestionably, the requirement to use an external program that is not available as a standard feature of most Internet packages can be a hurdle. One solution I am investigating is to offer a JAVA-based telnet client. I am currently testing a prototype version, however, it's not ready for prime time yet; if you're interested in giving it a try, just send me e-mail and I'll send you the URL.
As these efforts demonstrate, I am trying to address two objectives here: to provide better exposure for the game, and to make it more friendly to the average Internet user. At the same time, I am not forgetting about our existing players either. During the last few weeks, in addition to minor changes to the mud2.com Web page, I also spent some time improving certain facilities available to the Land's wizzes. What are these? Well, all you need to do is to make wiz and I'll tell you all about them!
Viktor the arch-wizard
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Viktor T. Toth