Friday, September 14, 2012

Update on the future of Railroad Empire

After talking to some people and doing some math, We are going to try and keep Railroad Empire running as a subscription service. Since there needs to be free access to the game to keep the Google Maps implementation, there will be a free tier to the game still.

So here is what I am planning. The game as it stands today can be played by anyone with up to 10 trains. If you want to play more than 10 trains, You will have to subscribe. The subscription fee will be $2.50 / month or $25 / year. Facebook will only have the monthly option at the moment because that is all their subscription system supports.

When you subscribe you will no longer need to use Board Points.

There are still some things I need to work out about how all this will work and I have to write a bunch of code to support this, but I plan to try and do this quickly.

As long as we can get enough subscribers to offset the cost of running the game, the game will continue to run.

As always I look forward to hearing your comments, thoughts and concerns.

Mike

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Open letter to the players of Railroad Empire

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on Railroad Empire for the past 2 years. We launched Railroad Empire to the public two years ago. There have been some ups and downs as I have worked to try and make Railroad Empire better, but unfortunately Railroad Empire is costing me a lot of money and I am losing money every month. It is not fair for my family to continue to bear this burden, so I am writing this letter.

Right now unless we change something I will have to shutdown Railroad Empire on September 30th. I don't want to do this, but right now the game brings in an average of $260 a month and the total cost right now is about $560 a month. I am currently paying the extra $300 a month out of my own pocket.

Many of you may be wondering how I ended up in this state. I attribute it to two mistakes on my part. The first is that when I designed the game I chose to use the virtual currency monetization method. At the beginning of the game's history this proved to be a very effective method of monetizing the game, however as the percentage of users changed from new users to veteran players the revenues dropped off and the cost increased slightly as veteran players have more trains which costs more to run the game.

The second potential mistake I made is that I chose to build Railroad Empire on Google App Engine. Last year Google made a major change to its billing practices for App Engine. At the time these changes happened, I was hoping I would be able to work through the increases and control costs, however I have been unable to reduce the costs on Google App Engine. A while back I started on a project to change the backend for the game from Google App Engine to a traditional server architecture. However I substantially underestimated the amount of work that would be involved in the project and I also have realized that it may not have a substantial impact on the cost. In addition there are some features of Google App Engine that would be lost in the transition. There are also some issues with user accounts from users logging in through Google, Yahoo, and other OpenID providers.

Right now the game gets 7863 unique players a month. So if people are interested we can explore moving the game to a subscription model. This creates a potential issue in that Google Maps requires an app that is not freely available to pay for a Premier license which is $17500 a year. We may be able to switch the map software to something else but I am not sure how difficult that will be.

I would like to hear everyone's opinion on this matter. If anyone has any ideas, please feel free to let me know what you think. If you want to contact me privately, feel free to e-mail me at mjr@mytechmaster.com