Want a peek of the Gleemax online board gaming? Maybe you’ve already had it

So here was my little mystery story tonight: go by Cheapass’ news page, be surprised to find a press release from GameTable Online. In the press release, find this: “Instead of subscribers in thousands, we have yet to break the 200 subscriber mark.” Oh, wait, that’s pretty interesting but not what I’m talking about. Here it is: “The great news is that a recent sale of the license to use our game platform, now called Metagameâ„¢, and contract game work have provided us with the resources to […]” Well, wait a minute; this release was posted in June, and who might have been shopping for a board game engine around then? Ohhhh. A trip to the Metagame website confirms it: the same engine that powers GTO will be powering the online board games on Gleemax. So if you’d like a preview, I guess subscribe to GTO.

But man… 200 subscribers? It makes a kind of terrible sense, given how many of those crappy free play-by-web games are out there that people put incredible amounts of work into for no compensation at all – not even players. GTO’s offering is pretty far from terrible; it’s well-executed, attractive and solid. And I happen to know how bloody much work it takes to code that. Hell, making the crappy kind is more work than I want to do. And it still only gets you 200 subscribers. I guess enough people are willing to make this kind of thing for free that the value just gets driven down. Well, okay, and the case for subscribing to a mildly random selection of board games is quite different from, say, the case for D&D Insider’s playtable (which will run on a completely different engine, just to be clear). But it doesn’t bode well, although the analogy is still not perfect, for the financial success of efforts like WotC’s upcoming Uncivilized, or that one game I was going to start a company and do someday, or of, um, the Gleemax online board games. *sigh* Glad I could cheer us all up!


  1. Hey, Mike. Thanks for the kind words about GameTable Online. Unfortunately, as you say, your analogy isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s pretty far from it.

    First, let’s start with something that you’re correct about. Our competition continues to be sites that create games for free with no license or permission from the IP holders. Sure, community efforts are all well and good but we’re trying to make sure that the people who created great games like Tigris & Euphrates, Nuclear War, New England and other all get justly compensated for their work. That’s why we’ve always licensed the games that we create and shared subscription revenue with those designers and publishers. So, when people can go to a site and play similar (or the same!) game for free elsewhere, they aren’t necessarily going to feel bad about the fact that the designer isn’t getting anything from these unlicensed games. In many cases they probably don’t even know. So, that makes for a tough marketplace for a company with a small marketing budget.

    But, we’re still here and the site it more active than it’s been in years, thanks to our new Core User program. You see, the biggest problem that we’ve had is that our main selling point is the ability to have live opponents for some of your favorite games whenever you want to play. People can’t always find players for boardgames when they want to play them. That’s the great promise of the internet. There’s always somebody with free time somewhere. But, the subscription model means that activity will be low until you reach a certain number of subscriptions. But because activity is low it’s difficult to get subscriptions. Quite the catch-22. In any case, the core user program (giving free accounts to a certain number of people who keep up a minimum amount of activity on the site) has really helped turn things around and we see a bright future ahead of us.

    The thing about Gleemax is (to bring us back to where I started) is that Wizards will not have any difficulty bringing activity to the site. I mean, if we had a website with the traffic that they get to start with we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But, in addition to that they’ll have some pretty amazing games to kick things off with along with games that you don’t see on other sites. Personally, I’m pretty excited about RoboRally and expect to spend a lot of time playing that one.

    On top of all that, they have some great ideas about their pricing model. Check out the following:

    Our current plan for a pricing system for the board game portal works like this:

    1. Anyone can join a game that someone else has started (unless the starter made it a private game, anyway). Thus, you’ll be able to try out games (many times) without ever giving us a dime.
    2. Tournament games cannot be joined for free.
    3. Subscribers will be able to start lots of games each month. (There will also be other premium features that are only available to subscribers.)
    4. There will be a way for non-subscribers to start games and/or join tournaments by paying one game at a time, coin-op arcade style.

    That was from Randy Buehler’s blog on the Gleemax site – http://gleemax.com/articles/announcement004.html (incidentally, this is the first time it was mentioned publicly that we were working with them on this).

    So, with all of this I would say that I am not only optimistic about Gleemax’s boardgame portal, I’m excited about it. Of course, I’ve already been able to play many of the games from the portal so I have an unfair advantage.

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that although building games like these from the ground up does take a lot of work, having Metagameâ„¢ to start with makes the process a whole lot faster. 😉

  2. Bah! Board games are meant to be played face to face. They’re social activities, just like role-playing games and yet WOTC wants to turn them into computer games. And isn’t VASSAL and Cyberboard both in a position to do the same thing already?

  3. Jay: see that post right above this one? That’s why I think the Gleemax board gaming might not be the slam dunk that it looks like: people on the Internet.

    But thanks very much for this wealth of info. Both the GTO Core User program and the Gleemax pricing structure look pretty smart.

  4. As far as the people at GTO are concerned, we’d all prefer to be able to play boardgames with people in our homes whenever we got the urge. GTO is not about replacing face to face play, it’s about making it possible to play these games even when you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to.

    As to Vassal… have you ever tried it? It’s not for the faint of heart or technically disinclined. The main differences between what we do and what they do is that we create the games from the ground up with a UI that works with the game in question and the game enforces the rules. Cyberboard and Vassal allow you to move pieces around on a board assuming a board and pieces exist for the game that you’re trying to play. The core idea is the same, though. That is, giving you a chance to play a game with somebody who doesn’t happen to be where you are.

  5. It will be interesting to see the list of games that will be available. Is Hasbro finally going to do something right with their AH acquisition and bring back the classics online, or will those games continue to be in the realm of VASSAL?

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