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 ...

Get Game Design Secrets now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.