Are Text-Based browser games dying?

[May 2022]

Where does talk of a whole subset of games "dying" come from?

Anybody who's played an online text-based browser game, TBBG for short, has probably heard that "these games are dying anyway" when the subject of dwindling game populations arises. As a player for many years, and now a creator of such TBBGs, I've heard it a lot. Usually from players that have got bored with that particular game. A quick google of whether text based games are dying yields a great many articles going back at least 7 years in some cases. Yet, these games are still here... What's going on?

A little gaming history - How text-based became big.

To understand what's going on, we have to take a trip back in time. Time is such a crucial factor here that it cannot be ignored. We'll mostly focus on round-based games that gave players the opportunity to win cash prizes.

1990s. Text-based online games started to come to prominence.

The catalyst here is the rapid adoption of the internet in residences around the world. Text based arcade games from the late 70s and 80s find their way first to e-mail, then to websites. Suddenly playing online with players from around the world is a real possibility.

2000 - 2008. The Heyday of text based games.

This is a period where games could draw tens of thousands of players weekly and have revenues to match. It wasn't unusual for some games to earn $15,000 in a single night. The ability to make instant payments online saw people spend big and take home big jackpots. With such huge player counts and profits came an avalanche of copycats. It became easy to set up a game and attract hundreds of players for those in the know, and this is where things start going wrong...

2008 Onwards. The fracturing and the start of the slide.

So when it becomes easy to create these games and there are many gamers willing to put big bucks on the line to win this is where the crooks come in. Now there are hundreds of copycat games, many of them almost exact replicas of eachother. It's easy for dishonest owners to handout extreme amounts of credits to their friends, or even play themselves against people who spend on their games. Within the community, barely a week goes by without hearing about another person who's lost big in suspicious circumstances. Now TBBGs have an image problem. New games are rightly viewed with supicion instead of excitement.

2008-2009. Global financial meltdown "kills" games.

It would be remiss to fail to mention the real-world situation and it's impact on games. Historic lay-offs and a decade long wage depression led to big changes in the way people viewed these games. Much of the appeal for many players is the end of round (EOR). This is where you see whether you'll win any prizes, and see who's going to win the big jackpot. A lot of this spectacle is lost when the big spenders choose to co-operate instead of compete. Games which took 70% from all purchases saw a marked drop-off in EOR challenges, revenues and player counts. Many of the dishonest owners disappeared, probably seeking easier targets. We'll pause the history lesson here for now...

A perfect storm

This all sounds very doom and gloom. Trust issues and financial pressures also co-incide with a huge boom in multiplayer game offerings. Ever improving internet connections enable faster upload and download speeds. This doesn't have a huge impact on text based games which generally stayed as lightweight as possible. It did however open up the possibility of widespread adoption of multiplayer online video games. The hugely popular Call of Duty series launched Modern Warfare, highlighting the shift to fast-paced graphical action games. There's no doubt that graphically intensive games produce more regular endorphin rushes.

So... are TBBGs dying?

There's no disputing that these games live in the shadow of their former glory. The gaming industry has largely moved on and continues to grow at a record pace, especially when it comes to mobile games. Player counts aren't what they were and many games are remembered only by archives on the internet and those who used to play them. It's not quite as clear-cut as that though. We will identify some games that support the theory, and some games that are bucking the trend.

In Memoriam: Games that haven't stood the test of time

Over the last couple of years, a few of the big games that launched around the TBBG heyday have closed up shop. Black Aftermath, The Mobster, Allmafia and MobsterBoss all boasted hundreds of daily players and raked in big profits from big jackpots. Ultimately, what did for these games was the failure to adapt over time.

Games bucking the trend

It's not all doom and gloom though. Well-supported text based games across all genres still exist today. The teams behind The Mafia Boss and Torn have proven that they can adapt and keep players interested. Smaller games like Mafia Inferno are still going strong and have loyal player bases. New games are emerging - Star Threat has become popular very quickly and MMM is steadily growing.

What sets apart the games that continue to thrive from those that don't?

Active and ongoing development seems to form a big part of the success of remaining TBBGs that do well. Everybody hates abandonware. Once the team behind a game is seen to have thrown in the towel, a death spiral starts. Sometimes it's slow, sometimes almost overnight. Games need to constantly update their offering to remain relevant.

Does TBBG still have a place in 2022?

We believe so! In fact, we launched Made Man Mafia at the tail end of 2021 and have been developing the engine for over a year. We've also acquired a stake in Extreme Mob Wars, a game with a 15-year history. There are plenty of incredibly loyal players around to ensure the success of a text based game, yes, even in 2022! It's definitely a challenge to launch a new game these days, and growth isn't easy to come by. Competition is fierce and capturing attention is dificult.

Why text-based?

The core benefits of text-based haven't really changed. Although internet speeds are faster than ever, lightweight text-based browser games are quick and reliable, even on the go. They also tend to use far less mobile data than other forms of game. HappyPimpin has a great description about why text-based games are still relevant. It's also a broad community compared to other forms of gaming where you can make lifelong friends.

Made Man Mafia - TBBG for the future

Made Man Mafia Intro banner for mafia game.

Picking up the history lesson, what can we learn about how to run an online game?

Well firstly, that trust is vital. Anarchy Web design has been creating games for about 14 years now and have been building a reputation as honest site administrators over that time. We know reputation takes decades to build and can be lost in a minute, so we keep everything above board.

We also see the pattern of games that stop development as the ones that go into terminal decline. Seeing as MMM is owned and developed by the same team, we have the ability to keep the game developing even when times are lean.

Emulate what works well elsewhere, and don't cling to the past. Nostalgia is great for gamers. We all remember fondly many of the games we played years ago. We want to re-create some of those feelings but without the clunkiness. Times have moved on, and there have been great strides in connectivity and user interfaces over the years. We aim to adopt that which makes the game better to play, and ignore the chaff.

Bring new players to this gaming style. Thriving communities need new blood to keep things fresh. Plus, there are millions of people that may discover they enjoy this type of game above all others. We don't assume that the only players that like TBBGs are the ones that played them a decade or two ago!

Made Man Mafia Mission Statement

You can view our full Mission Statement here to learn more. We develop the game in accordance with these principles to deliver a fun game and build a thriving community that stands the test of time.

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