Exclusive: The Future Of Social Games Through The Eyes Of Frogdice

    July 14, 2012
    Zach Walton
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If you own a smartphone or frequent Facebook, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re a gamer. While you might not consider yourself one of the hardcore gamers that spend more than 30 hours a week saving a kingdom or competing online, you probably spend a few minutes a day tending to a virtual farm or playing Words with Friends. The recent gaming explosion is all thanks to free-to-play and social games that have cropped up on Facebook and smartphone.

To better understand the free-to-play phenomenon and social gaming in general, WebProNews talked to Michael Hartman, President and CEO of Frogdice. Frogdice is a game developer based in Lexington, KY that got their start in 1996 with a MUD (multi-user dungeon) called Threshold. MUDs are completely text based and require role play on the part of the players to really bring the world to life. While MMOs have definitely taken the spotlight from their progenitors, Frogdice is still operating Threshold and Hartman says that the game has been played by almost 500,000 people over its life. The developer recently launched Coin ‘n Carry, a medieval mini-game/crafting/shop keeper game that’s far more engaging and fun that it has any right to be.

To see where social gaming is going, we have to look at its origins. I remember playing little Shockwave powered games in 1996 on my 56k connection, but it turns out that more ambitious fare like Threshold actually required its own separate client. Hartman says that for most of its life, Threshold ran on a separate client. It was only recently that the game was able to be played in browser.

So what changed between the early days of browser-based games and now? Technology has improved drastically allowing players to become fully immersed in a 3D world compared to the simple 2D games that were the norm back in the 90s and early 2000s. That’s all thanks to big leaps in Flash, Unity and Unreal that allow full 3D games to be played in browsers. Hartman says that browser-based games have remained popular because they are generally platform agnostic and require little to no install. Players can just jump on and start having fun.

The modern evolution of the browser-based game is the Facebook game. Frogdice didn’t put their latest game, Coin ‘n Carry, on Facebook though. The developer stuck to the browser when everybody is tripping over themselves to get their game on Facebook. Why is that? Hartman cited a number of reasons with the first reason being that they wanted to develop a deeper game that wasn’t possible on Facebook. Coin ‘n Carry has many different elements to it (mini-games, crafting, shop keeping) which in turn makes it better suited for browser than Facebook games which usually feature only one element.

Aside from the game itself, he feels that Facebook isn’t very conducive to a good player experience. Here’s what he had to say on it:

Privacy – why does the world need to know what games you are playing and when? They don’t.

Quality – You give up a lot of screen real estate to the Facebook UI when your game is on Facebook. We didn’t want to do that.

Cost – Facebook takes about 30% of your gross with their Facebook credits. That’s brutal.

User experience – Users don’t have to deal with ads, Facebook slowdowns, or any other issues while playing Coin ‘n Carry. This improves the user experience significantly.

Just because Coin ‘n Carry is not on Facebook doesn’t mean that Hartman hates the platform. He says that it’s still a great platform for games because it’s “where the people are.” The ease of development is also great for anybody just starting on the road to making games. He says that the only thing hurting Facebook game development is the poor quality that we see across the board. The blatant cloning doesn’t help either.

So with Facebook out of the question, what about a mobile app? Facebook themselves are having a bit of trouble trying to compete with mobile as many game developers are now making native apps on iOS or Android. Hartman says that they talked about the possibility, but never really considered making Coin ‘n Carry for mobile. He does, however, say that much of Coin ‘n Carry works well on flash-enabled Android tablets and phones despite being built primarily for PC.

You may recall some worrying news that Google+ was losing games and developers. Google remains committed to bringing games to the platform, but is it enough? Hartman says that Google+ shot itself in the foot by being a closed platform. He feels that games would have done much better if people were allowed to link their Facebook/Twitter accounts to Google+ and play cross platform. In a really telling quote that I think sums up Google+ for a lot of people, he says, “In an attempt to take over everything, they’ve ended up being nothing.” That doesn’t mean that he hates Google+ as he would love to see it succeed as a games platform in the future.

Beyond the fight between mobile and social, there’s another war on the horizon for browser-based game developers – Flash or HTML5? Coin ‘n Carry was developed in Flash and Hartman says the reason was because “HTML5 has a lot of problems and flaws that make game programming problematic.” That doesn’t mean that Flash is the go to platform either as it “drives [him] insane that you cannot use right mouse click commands in Flash.” At the moment, they use Flash because “its very robust for game development and has a huge installed base.” Interestingly enough, he finds that Unity is superior to both so maybe game developers will no longer worry about Flash vs. HTML5 debates when (and if) Unity takes off.

Beyond all this talk of free-to-play and browsed-based gaming, dedicated game consoles must be brought into the equation. There are people on both sides saying that consoles will or will not die. There’s a lot at stake in this argument with people investing their livelihoods into browsers and mobile games because they seem them as the future. Hartman doesn’t see consoles going anywhere, however, as he feels that “people still love to play games on their television sitting at their couch.” The recent Kickstarter explosion of the Android-based Ouya console only confirms that feeling.

As for the future of free-to-play, there’s nothing but sunshine and cotton candy for the platform. Hartman says that free-to-play is important to games as it gives players a chance to try before they buy in the most literal sense. They can get as much as they want out of it and if they really like it, he feels that they will respond by supporting the game with purchases. All of Frogdice’s games use the free-to-play model where the most dedicated players spend large amounts of money which helps supports those who may only play it for a few minutes a day.

It seems somewhat insane that a strictly-browser based game could do so well in today’s Facebook and mobile environment, but Frogdice is proving that it works with Coin ‘n Carry and Threshold. The company will be launching two other free-to-play games in the future with their next game being called Tower of Elements.

If you want to see the future of browser gaming and how far it has come since its humble roots under Shockwave, check out Coin ‘n Carry. Frogdice has some exciting things on the horizon, as do many others. It’s safe to say that browser-based and social games are not going anywhere.

  • http://rosuav.blogspot.com Chris Angelico

    The original Frogdice game is Threshold RPG – and it’s still one of the best games you can play when you’re on a slow internet connection. Forget about loading up Facebook; if it’s too much trouble even to download Coin’n’Carry, you can still play Thresh. That’s the MUD advantage. (And yes, dodgy internet connections still exist, in today’s world… just this week I was struggling through ~50% packet loss.) Threshold doesn’t demand its own client, but uses any standard TELNET client; there are people who play on Windows, Linux, Mac, OS/2, mobile phones of many descriptions… and even using screenreaders. It’s pretty hard to make a Flash game blind-accessible, but a MUD can smoothly slide to a new environment like a Unix utility!

  • http://www.thresholdrpg.com Jeff Humienny

    I’ve been playing Threshold on and off for about ten years now. It has held my interest, my creative flow, and even helped me meet my wife. The people you can meet in character or out (As Threshold is a roleplaying enforced game) are an amazing lot and friendly to boot. I’d recommend it to anyone who even has a passing interest in roleplaying.

  • Paul

    I’ve been playing Frogdice games since 1998. I first started on Threshold, and then when Coin’n’Carry debuted, I was very excited about it. I didn’t have much in the way of time to play it, but that’s the beauty of the game. It’s a whole bunch of mini-games that take ~90 seconds to play.

    Michael Hartman has always had my respect as a developer, and world creator. He’s done a lot to put forth heart and soul into each and every one of his games, and it shows. The attention to detail in Threshold, specifically, is unparalleled, not only by Michael’s contributions, but by the entire community that has helped build his creation to a new level.

    Coin’n’Carry definitely has an appeal for an on-the-go person like myself. Log in, play a quick mini-game or two, and log out. There’s no extended commitment necessary. You don’t have to be in there every day grinding to get the next achievement, or to get the most gold. All you’re doing is taking a few minutes out of your day to relax.

    I really liked the article, and I hope you’ll do a piece on Threshold. It’s definitely worth taking a look at!

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/zach-walton Zach Walton

      Michael has been trying to convince me to play Threshold for a while now. I may jump in one day as it would be my first MUD! I got frustrated with text-based adventure games like Zork when I was a kid, but it would be interesting to try out a required role-playing adventure at some point. I’ll be sure to post my thought somewhere if I ever get the chance.

      • Paul

        I understand your hesitation with giving MUDs a try. Though I can tell you from experience that there is a world of difference between Zork and Threshold. Where Zork was definitely an imagination-rich game, the big problem lies in the lack of shared experience.

        Threshold, on the other hand, is a living, breathing, vibrant world full of not just Michael’s imagination, but those of each and every player to ever cross the Threshold.

        I would definitely recommend it. No other game has kept my attention for over a decade.

        • Deirdre

          That is what I love about Threshold. That the events and storylines are not confined to the administration. The community creates it, or expands on existing plotlines to make it a singularly unique environment.

  • Rhonda R.

    I’ve been playing Threshold since 1999. Every day can bring something new, and the people are amazing. I can RP hostilities with someone, and yet, I can chatter about family and life with that same player in Out Of Character channels. It’s more of a community than a game, and we welcome anyone willing to immerse themselves in a whole new world.

    Now, I have my family playing Coin ‘n Carry. Simply because I trust Frogdice and their products. It’s one thing to say you’ve read about a good company, but it’s quite another to say that you’ve been working with them for more than a decade and have met the CEO and VP.

  • Thomas Ross

    I have been playing Threshold since back in 1998, and let me just say that it’s like a live book that always keeps my attention. I’m glad now that I can log in from my phone and even still get a laugh or smile in when not in the comfort of my home. They obviously know how to keep someone hooked if the imagination of the player can handle it.

  • Mark C

    I have been playing games from Frogdice for quite a while. Love the attention to detail that is put in to the games. The players are also fantastic. You are seriously doing yourself a discredit if you do not check out their products.

  • Hannah Blum

    Hi there! I’ve been playing Threshold for about ten years now. I’ve had a couple different characters throughout that time, which I loved because it gave me the opportunity to experience the game from all different angles. In addition, I’ve made some really great friends through the active community. Everyone should really give Threshold (and Coin ‘n Carry!) a try. It’s a rich, immersive, and diverse gaming experience. Thanks for writing this great article!

  • http://www.frogdice.com Michael Hartman

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this article and the great interviews.

    Also: WOW to some of our players that have found the article and posted about it. Thanks for your super kind words.

    Our players are the best thing about our games and our community. They are everything to us. What keeps us busting our butts to make our games as good as possible is because we don’t want to let these awesome people down.

  • Jason

    Threshold RPG is a great game. It’s worth checking out. I’ve been an avid player of ThresholdRPG for 13 years. It’s a great game that host awesome replay value. The community creates an environment that never gets old.

  • Brandi

    Threshold is a wonderful game. It’s fun and diverse and never fails to keep me entertained. I used to give my ex hell for staying up all night playing. Now that I play, I find myself doing the same thing. Its amazing and addictive. As for Coin n’ Carry, its fun and easy to play. I love it.

  • Rob H.

    I’ve been playing Frogdice games for about 15 years. I first started with Threshold RPG, though I have also played Coin n Carry. What first attracted me to Threshold was the intense RP and strong sense of community. I had been searching for living, growing role-playing games online, and discovered MUDs. A text-based venue is perfectly suited for true RP, where your own imagination and ingenuity drives the game. But, finding a strong community like Threshold is rare and precious. I have met quite a few people from the game in real life, and was even married at one time to someone I met via Threshold. The same spirit which created Threshold and it’s strong community is what drives all of the Frogdice games. Michael and Pang Hartman are truly great people, and are more than just developers of a game I happen to play, they have become good friends, to myself and to many others in the games they create.

    Zach, your article is excellenet, and no one deserves the praise and attention more than the people working at Frogdice. Keep up the good work, and you should definitely try Threshold, and any other games they develop in the future!

  • Jupicia

    Welcome to Threshold, my darling. Here, you are immersed in a world that you can shape to suit your desires. Come and partake in our rich history and all the vices of life that you are too abashed to partake in in the real world. Release your frustrations with fantasy. The men and women are plentiful here. Take your pick: from the gentle and sweet to the dirty and manipulative. Indulge in any pleasure you wish, for the world can be yours for the taking. All you have to do… is cross the Threshold.

  • L. L.

    Michael Hartman has been my virtual dungeon master since approximately 1995. My enthusiasm for his games has always remained high, and no matter where I am in the world, I know when I log into Threshold, I am welcomed home.

  • Ted E

    A friend from work just got me into trying Threshold a few days ago, and I’ve not stopped playing. My wife, who has never played a text based game in her life also loves it. The attention to detail is what makes it fun and the community as well!

  • Drew Spring

    I’ve been playing Threshold almost since the day it went online; I’ve enjoyed it the entire time, in large part due to the dedicated staff that continues to expand, improve, and support the game, for 16, 17 years now, with no signs of stopping. I love knowing that Threshold will be there whenever I want some good ol’ fashioned mudding; not to mention the amazing community of people who play. I’ve made some wonderful friends there over the years.

  • Craig Tierney

    Great article, free-to-play games are definately the way forward. Threshold and CoinnCarry are arguably the two most addictive games i’ve ever played.

  • Kellyn B

    Threshold is one of the only games that I can keep playing. it just never gets old! There are always new faces and new things happening that keeps it interesting, and it lets you use your imagination! I love it!

  • http://yourmomknowsit Angelina

    I will play Threshold forever and always. :)

  • Breven

    Threshold has been a staple of fun for over a decade, it has the best coding and best players. You have to check it out and even if you have never played a mud before the players and system will help you get in the groove at which point you will find yourself unable to log out! Coin n Carry another game by Frogdice has a ton of fun features and is a great way to while away a bit of time when your surfing the web.

  • J.

    Long time player of Thresh, and less long time player of Coin’n’Carry. Since I started Thresh about 13 years ago now, I’ve always been impressed with this company’s commitment to their customers and to providing great content. Just my two cents.

  • Scott

    Both Threshold and Coin’n’Carry couldn’t be easier to play. Especially Coin’n’Carry. It’s literally the follow: Register. Begin playing. You’re done. It’s an attention vacuum (ask my boss). Hours and hours of your day can be spent playing the multitude of games that are available. I couldn’t be happier with either game, the Administration is supportive and available, the play is extraordinary, and the users are some of the best people in the world (ask my wife, she’s one of them).

  • Xhed

    I’ve been playing Threshold for many years.
    It’s addictive and can be very frustrating but it rocks.
    Haven’t really checked out the other Frogdice games,
    but will take a look soon.

  • Travis

    Threshold is one of the best game I have played. I have an XBOX, WII, PS3 but would rather get online and play threshold than any of my other games. i have been playing for several years now and it has to be one of the most addictive games I have ever played. There is never a day that is the sam ewhile playing Threshold.I would recomend this game to anyone who likes a great story and free will to do just about anything with their character that choose to do.

    ** Great Article ***

  • Taeserac Allgood

    Come te Threshold an’ ye’ll get te meet foine folk loike meself. Oi can be yer best mate er yer worst enemy dependin’ on ‘ow ye play yer cards.

    From that foine wench Bridgit o’er at the Green Griffon te the fishin’ ponds o’ Eastvoine, there’s a bit o’ somethin’ fer e’eryone. Politickin’, boozin’, an’ mayh’m all be at yer fingerstips. Whiche’er way ye go, ye’ll ‘ave a foine toime o’ it.

    Welcome te Threshold, lads an’ lasses. Name’s Tae Allgood… ‘ope te see ye ’round.

  • Jaheria

    Threshold rpg is like a family to me. I have been playing Threshold for about 12 years now. Although I take breaks I always return to my favourite game. Threshold has a wonderful community and I have made some great friends.

  • Kevin Young

    Another long time player of Threshold, and like Paul above this is the only game that has ever held my attention for any considerable amount of time. The depth of the player story arcs have always amazed. And the flexibility of the pay for perks system has definitely kept me around during the tough financial times, instead of having to worry about breaking my bank for a monthly subscription.

    Seeing Michael Hartman expanding into other game venues has been very exciting. Threshold, itself being 15+ years old now, has changed and adapted due to feedback, suggestion, and open dialogue. Very few, if any, other games allow the players to have such a large impact on their games and gaming community.

  • Dhelta

    Threshold’s commitment to a strict roleplaying environment is unlike games found elsewhere. For those who want an opportunity to try a true immersive experience, this is the RPG to try.

  • Sier

    I met my wife because of threshold. I’m having a child because of threshold. I’ve spent roughly 15 years of my life playing threshold. While other game developers are focusing on subpar games with heightened graphics, threshold sticks to the tried and true formulate of gameplay and roleplaying first.

    Give it 1 hour of your time. You will not be dissapointed. :)