In This Series...
- Prelude to Eternity
- The Tale of Eternity: Part 1
- The Tale of Eternity: Part 2
- Interlude: See-Invisibility Exploit
- The Tale of Eternity: Part 3
- (more to come)
It's been more than three years since I started the EternityRO project, and there isn't a single person other than myself, who knows the whole story. Originally, I had planned on letting the story die, but after reading many stories on Hacker News, I decided I should do my part for the community - as little as it is.
Here, I'll share how I started a private game server that grew larger than official servers - almost 300,000 registered accounts and almost 4000 simultaneous players. I'll outline how I diversified my hosting, dealt with players from over 107 different countries, escaped a DDoS attack, created alternative ways to catch hackers, and ended up keeping one of every 20 people I hired.
Although it wasn't really a startup, it really felt like one; I really hope this story is one that actual founders can relate to... at least those of you who jumped into the fire, completely unprepared. Unfortunately, before I get to the meat of the story, I need to brush over some quick facts. I'm linking everything (except to official servers) for easier understanding. If you want to get into the meat for the story, skip to the next post.
So what is EternityRO, and why was I able to run it?
EternityRO was a private Ragnarok Online server, made possible by an emulator. The open source group, eAthena publishes a set of emulator code based on the original Aegis software that Ragnarok Online's founding company, Gravity Inc, runs. Thanks to17 USC 102(b), some privacy laws, and inter USA-Canada-China-Korea legal confusions, running emulated software is apparently legal, as long as you make it really annoying and costly to find you. Honestly, I couldn't even guess what country's jurisdiction I would fall in anymore. Thinking back, I probably should have gotten a lawyer's opinion. If any lawyers are reading this and want to send me a note, I'd love to hear it.
So why would anyone play a private server hosted by a kid (well, young adult)? Simply put it, official servers have several problems:
- Official servers charge a monthly subscription fee
- Progression is often slower on official servers (1x rates)
- For some reason I just can't figure out, official servers tend to lag
- Bots run rampant on officials, as part of their marketing strategy is to allow trial accounts.
- Cheating (WPE, OpenKore) run unchecked, because HackShield is garbage.
- Inter-Guild competition is more intense on private servers*
- Private servers are more agile, and quicker to balance issues*
- Private server staff speak English... and other languages. Plus we have no life, and are available 24/7**
* Not true before EternityRO. Eternity set the stage, and ingrained these concepts into the community. For the RO community at least, #6 has become the leading force, driving almost every server hop (change of servers).
** Sarcasm... but was often the expectation
I started Eternity at the pleading of two co-founders at the time, screen names Ayumi and Autumn. By this time, I had been playing the game on a different private server, and had gained some knowledge of the game's mechanics and scripts. In this group, I was meant to be the developer - although really, I wasn't qualified. Ayumi, the real pioneer of this whole project was an emotional socialite. Possessing e-bewbz in a predominately male community grants you special abilities, otherwise not available. Plus, she was e-dating one of the celebrity players (he made lots of movies) at the time. Autumn--one of Ayumi's friends--was brought on board as a co-founder to head design. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure Autumn was just Ayumi's way of seizing majority control in a voting situation. Sneaky.
So, as a full time student, I agreed to start a new RO server with two other full time students who I had never met. Without any concept for how much time this would eat up, we started dreaming the founder's dream. We were the wizened oracles, armed with knowledge of all that was wrong, and the passion to set it right. And really, that must be how it all starts, because no logical-thinking person would logically jump into their first startup with full time commitments on the side. There's one big difference though: when you set out on a startup journey, usually at least one of your co-founders is a decent coder. I was the developer here, and all I really knew was some basic HTML. Needless to say, probably not something YC would have funded!
I didn't really know why I was chosen to be a co-founder. I had almost no marketable skills, other than up talking every mound of potential into a mountain of accomplishment... otherwise known as boasting. My mother, one of the most accomplished and deserving academics I know, would like to take some time at this point to remind me that cow blowing (boasting in Chinese) is actually a very essential skill in any line of work - and academics in particular. Over the course of these few years, I've realized that marketing and boasting are really just two words for the same thing, and it's become one of my most valuable assets.
So... without any plan, I started boasting. To everyone.
The next part of the series is here: