Designing Story-Rich Facebook RPGs the 5th Planet Way

In 2009, Robert Winkler was a full-time student at UC Davis with a wife and three kids, and he’d just been offered a full scholarship to the university. However, he wanted to help launch a game studio, 5th Planet Games, even though he had no background in game development (beyond a love of playing them), and doing this would mean giving up the scholarship. Despite that, his wife gave Winkler the go-ahead, telling him, “This is the one chance to follow your dream.” Winkler’s co-founder in the nascent company, Steve Pladson, was a programmer, but he didn’t know Flash, the platform they intended to develop for, and had to learn it on the job (so to speak) through a book. The first 20 people on their team, for that matter, also had no prior game development experience. The company had no investors and was 100 percent bootstrapped and self-funded.

The original plan, as conceived by the four original founders, was to create a web-based, massively multiplayer online game like Ragnarok or Runescape and hope to get it into a presentable demo they could then shop around, to get a bigger budget. “We knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Winkler remembers. Instead, he and Pladson argued that they should instead make a Facebook game—even though none of them even had an account on the social network at the time. Rejecting that pivot, two of the founding team members quit.

“[But t]hat’s where all the users were,” Winkler reasoned, arguing they ...

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