June 23, 2004

eGenesis proves Linux users will buy games

Author: James Hills

About a year and a half ago the tiny independent game developer eGenesis decided to create a Linux port of its massively multiplayer online game, A Tale In The Desert. The game was designed to appeal to creative people looking for an alternative to games that focused on destruction. The company's initial thinking was that it might get a few incremental sales and garner goodwill with the community by supporting Linux. What eGenesis discovered was that, per user, Linux gamers were and continue to be their best customers. Each account, on average, has generated twice as much revenue as those of Windows gamers.

A Tale In the Desert is an online game in the same genre as EverQuest and The Sims Online, but instead of combat or playing house, the game focuses on civilization-building and social puzzles, with the goal of "creating the perfect society." Players prove themselves and their society "perfect" by completing a number of challenges and tests. This raises a player's status in seven specific disciplines representing an aspect of humanity, including mind, body, spirit, and architecture. Many of the tests in the game focus on systems, and some of the most successful players are those who enter the game with the mindset of a scientist or engineer, working to figure out how systems work.

The first telling of the game is nearing the end though and soon the second telling will begin. In the first iteration, the developers created a system that allowed players to create laws in the game to solve problems and resolve disputes. The developers are building on this concept for the climax of the game and will open the development process to players even further. This time, successful players will create a test for the next telling, A Tale In The Desert 2.

To create the test, a player must write out in plain English (or German on Kemet, the German-language server) what the test should consist of. Once written the player sets to work recruiting people to help accomplish the goal of building a monument to one of the disciplines. Once the monument is built, eGenesis will code the test into the next game. To win the first game, however, the society of players must create a monument in each of the seven disciplines.

This spirit of openness and the appeal to players possessing scientist and engineer mentalities has not gone unrewarded. According to Tepper, the company noticed that Linux users statistically are their most loyal customers. Players using the Linux client average eight months of paid game time, whereas Windows gamers spend only four months on average. Thirty-eight percent of Linux players also convert to paying customers, compared to only 20% for Windows gamers.

The example of A Tale In The Desert indicates that Linux gamers will pay for a game they like, and spend money to support it, contrary to popular belief.

Unfortunately for eGenesis, the total number of players on Linux is dramatically smaller than the number on Windows, representing less than 1% of total players -- 101 subscribers out of 7,063. While number of Linux users may not be as high as eGenesis would like, the company found supporting Linux had other benefits, including discovering bugs uncovered during cross-platform development and finding opportunities to optimize the product. Additionally, the company benefitted from significant publicity opportunities generated from the initial announcement of the Linux support and also the subsequent announcement that it released an improved version of the open source eCal tool as eCal3d. So for eGenesis, supporting Linux can be considered a positive move.


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