One of Vancouver's most successful video-game developers is Gene Endrody, who, with his wife, Marnie Kucy, runs Maid Marian Entertainment. The company, which offers free-to-play on-line games at MaidMarian.com, is getting 1.8 million unique visitors a month.
"Second Life has about 650,000 unique visitors over a two-month period," Endrody told the Straight during a demonstration of his site in Vancouver. Endrody said he "wears whatever hat I have to wear to get the game out the door", which means he acts as animator, designer, programmer, and ad manager.
All of the company's revenue comes from ads. Although 80 percent of them are provided by Google, the site has a procedure built in so that if one of Endrody's other on-line ad-sales agents can give him a better CPM rate (cost per thousand page impressions), that ad runs in place of the Google-provided one. "I've literally never talked to an advertiser," he said.
One problem faced by many on-line video-game companies, Endrody said, is competitor game sites that wrap ads around a browser window for a game they don't own and don't host. While these sites are "normally pariahs of the game industry because they steal content", Endrody has turned the dynamic on its head by encouraging the sites to use MaidMarian.com games, as long as they display the ads that normally run if gamers run the game directly from his site. That way, if a competitor wants to run one of MaidMarian.com's games by putting a frame around the window, Endrody's company still makes money.
The games at MaidMarian.com are free to play, and include Sherwood Dungeon, a massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game featuring sword fighting and magic; Tank Ball, a quick shooter game in which you drive around in a cartoonish tank and take out other tanks; and Club Marian, an on-line party that has visitors driving around in virtual sports cars and mixing dance music.
The games are designed to be simple and intuitive, so that anyone can step in and play, with no instructions required. Because the menus are icon driven, language isn't an issue, and by running games in a browser window–the games themselves are programmed in Shockwave–Endrody didn't have to worry about platform or computer restrictions. That also meant the games had to be very lean, in the computer-coding sense. Sherwood Dungeon is only 2,200 kilobytes in size, so gamers are playing within moments of hitting the URL.
"I needed to completely remove any barrier to people playing the game," Endrody said. "The time from discovering the game to playing has to be less than 20 seconds." This, he said, is one reason his business model works.
"It's not the game mechanic that attracts people," he explained, "it's the community that attracts people." With support from the Maid Marian community, Sherwood Dungeon was voted best game at the PopVox Awards at September's Vancouver International Digital Festival, even though it was up against games from bigger developers and publishers, including Company of Heroes, NHL 07, and Scarface: The World Is Yours.
Endrody is an alumnus of Vancouver game developer Radical Entertainment, where he was technical art director. He left in 2005, when the money he was making from MaidMarian.com exceeded his Radical salary.
"This was designed as a lifestyle business," Endrody said of Maid Marian Entertainment. "I can do this from the beach in Aruba." -