Plant Wars: Postmortem

Plant Wars Logo

Plant Wars Logo

This is Jon from Plant Wars, which is yet another PBBG (what else would I be doing here?). I started the game around 9 months ago as I was searching for a job after graduating with a bachelor’s in Computer Science. I had only learned a minimal amount of PHP for a class project earlier in the year, so I definitely have used the process as a learning experience. Still, I’m pretty sure I can tell you more about what not to do than what to do. As with any web-based game, we are constantly developing and are far from being done.

First of all, set up a test site with its own test database. Keep it up to date so that you’re not tempted to cheat and just make this tiny change on the live site first. I cheated when I implemented the password change feature. The query it used when someone changed his password was “UPDATE Users SET Password=md5($newpassword)”. Notice something missing? That “WHERE Id=$_SESSION["Id"]” clause is just so easy to forget. That was a mess that would have been worth any level of inconvenience in maintaining the test site to avoid.

Secondly, I’d recommend using a framework, such as the Zend Framework for PHP. This is because I didn’t and still don’t. I don’t even have data access objects. Sure, I store some commonly used methods in files that I include on every page. Alas, I’m still in the habit of embedding queries in the pages directly. Separation of logic and presentation? Yeah, that’d be nice.. At my day job, I use the Struts framework with Java – and while it does make the initial development take somewhat longer in the case of Struts, it is definitely worth it. The maintainability is increased incredibly by the proper separation of concerns. Once you learn a framework, you should generally find that your productivity increases. The initial learning curve is worth the sacrifice at the beginning for the long term benefit.

Perhaps the most important thing I did right was to have my friend Daniel help me out whenever possible. Going at such an endless project alone is intimidating, and having someone else to shoulder some of the burden is essential. Coming home and seeing a new feature implemented that you didn’t have to lift a finger for is exhilarating. Plus, then you have someone to brainstorm with and to just talk with about the game. Your girlfriend (or mom, if that’s the case) may pretend to care, but she’s probably tired of hearing about it.

In the same vein, it’s essential to have some trustworthy staff members. Grant these people moderation powers on your game’s forum and give them the ability to check the logs for cheaters. Write a nice administration panel for them (and yourself) that will streamline the process of checking for cheaters. For example, one button click to see all users who have shared an IP address. Examining log files may be your thing, but it’s time that you should be spending developing. Ensure that your staff is – once again for emphasis – trustworthy, as well as good role models for your community.

If you have staff that you don’t know personally help on the site’s development, don’t give them access to the live database. Restrict them to the test site – another good reason for its existence. Merge their code yourself. I made the mistake of granting access to the live database to my first staff member. I got off easy when he just made a page to bump his stats up artificially.

My final recommendation is regarding monetization: if you would like to at least make enough cash to pay for your hosting costs (which we usually manage – if barely), ensure that people can donate for some advantage in your game. For example, with Plant Wars, donors gain fertilizer (which is spent to train, fight, etc) at twice the rate of non-donors. I charge a low price of $2/month, and I’m not sure if I would recommend going that low. My initial price was $5 and that received lots of complaints and no donors, but now that the game has progressed, I’m more inclined to believe that anyone who donates currently would be inclined to do so even if it were a couple bucks more expensive. Use your best judgment. Also, I allow anything that can be bought with real money to be sold player-to-player so that a) there is more motivation for people to give me real money and b) people who can’t give real money still have the opportunity to gain the same benefits with increased activity.

People hate clicking on ads. It is worth the minimal time investment necessary to sign up with some sort of pay-per-action network, such as CPALead (disclosure: referral link). This allows players to fill out an obnoxious survey for an in-game reward, while you get some money.

Come check out the Plant Wars blog and you can also follow us on Twitter! (As a related, post-final recommendation, open up communications from your game as much as possible. It increases the likelihood that someone will find you from a social networking site or a search engine.)

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Friday, March 20th, 2009 code, monetization, php, postmortem
  • Guest

    I think that 2x non-donors is too much... It should be max. x1,5

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Building Browsergames is a blog about browsergames(also known as PBBG's). It's geared towards the beginner to intermediate developer who has an interest in building their own browsergame.

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