There are many indie online games out there, of varying genres and varying popularity. Here, we present to you The Kingdom of Loathing (KOL), one of the most renowned and innovative indie MMORPGs in the current market. Loosely based on the concept of turning a ‘choose your own adventure’ novel into an MMORPG, with the game mechanics becoming the narrator, KOL has captured the hearts of many players since 2005. We will illustrate to you what makes KOL so great, and what, by far, differentiates it from other online games.
Humour and Complexity
The most commendable thing about KOL is that it has accomplished what many developers have dreamed of, but never achieved – KOL is a funny game. More specifically, it has successfully blended humor into an adventure game. Yet, at the same time, it has also retained its seriousness, and facilitates some of the most challenging gameplays of all times.
This is an extremely difficult problem to optimize – if the game is made too funny, humor is transformed into self-mockery and this in turn makes players lose interest in the game. Needless to say, there is a pivotal difference between a ‘choose your own adventure’ story and an online game. A story can be purely based on humor alone, and can attract and retain a good reader base just from that. Conversely, irrespective of how humorous a game is, its absolute core is still its gameplay. Even the funniest games would not be sustainable if players totally divert their attention away from this. With its gameplay marginalized, a game would inevitably die.
The KOL team proved itself to be excellent in tackling this equation. It has resolved to fully endorse both humor and sophistication. It based the game’s storyline and its NPC and item characterization upon humor, whilst also taking complexity as the groundwork for its gameplay. Through this dichotomy, players are able to receive both enjoyment and fulfillment from playing KOL.
Very simply put, KOL has one of the best online communities out there. In recent years, many online game developers have forgotten a very important principle – it is the player community which defines a game. Without a healthy community, even the best quality MMORPG is deemed to eventually fail.
The player community has been highly valued by the KOL team. Player support is given in a very responsive and helpful fashion by the team, and there is even an entire chat channel dedicated to helping new players alone. Likewise, the chat moderators are carefully chosen, and the head developers interact with players from time to time. Community events are also hosted in a regular basis both in-game and on the official forums, coupled with the KOL Con annual meet-up. All these elements work together in generating a friendly player environment, filled with mutual appreciation and rapport.
KOL is one of those very few online games which is able to create a likable micro-transactions system. Unlike the situation in the majority, if not all other MMORPGs, KOL’s ‘Mr. Accessory’ system betters the gameplay experience, and has been highly welcomed by players. A number of distinct characteristics of this system explains its unusual popularity.
First, the system works under the guise of donations. For every $10 USD donated to the game, as a token for the player’s kind contribution, the KOL team gifts the player an item named ‘Mr. Accessory’. This is pretty much the cash shop currency for KOL. In ‘Mr. Store’, players are able to exchange their Mr. Accessory’s for various premium items. Here, the player is donating to support a game which he or she enjoys, rather than paying for virtual items. The former system relies on goodwill, whereas the latter relies upon the concept of exchange. Accordingly, the former model is far more appealing to the players, in comparison with an explicit micro-transactions system.
Also, every ‘cash shop’ item in KOL is seasonable by nature. Known as ‘item of the month’, every item stays in the store for only a month. After that initial month, players can only purchase the item from each other. Rotations of items from month to month keep the game interesting, and also makes it much more attractive to donate in order to purchase a specific item. Every item is essentially limited edition, and the opportunity to get them is one-off. In fact, there are some players who no longer play the game per se, but still return every month to donate and purchase the month’s item, in hoping for its appreciation in the future. Very unsurprisingly, these items have has become the core of KOL’s gameplay and also its economy.
Last but not least, the cash shop items in KOL are very modest in how much benefit they offer to players. Surely, from time to time, there are items which make the game significantly easier. However, these are quite rare. Instead, the majority of them offers marginal benefits, adds some new fun mechanics to the game, and/or adds an interesting side story to the main storyline. Accordingly, players can enjoy the game to its full potential even without making any ‘purchases’. In fact, many players, whilst choosing to donate, choose to not to use these items, in order to retain the original difficulty level of the game. After all, KOL is based upon ‘choosing your own adventure’. It is all about player freedom and choice, and the KOL team honors nothing more than that. It all depends on the play style of the individual player.
Some Final Wordz
It is not easy for indie games to find success in today’s highly volatile and competitive MMO market. To succeed, an indie game must be so fresh and unique, to absolutely differentiate itself from all other titles. The Kingdom of Loathing is one of such games capable of striking such a feat. Its ingenious balance of humor and complexity, wonderful player community, as well as its innovative micro-transactions model renders it an irreplaceable niche market champion.
By Wilson Zhang