Parallel Kingdom: a Memoir (guest post)
(image credit: http://www.androidtapp.com/parallel-kingdom/)
Today we are excited to have a guest post from SuperSub, a long time player of the mobile MMO Parallel Kingdom. He offered to write a little bit about the game and what it means to him. Enjoy!
“PK”–those two letters have kept me occupied for three years and counting. They stand for “Parallel Kingdom,” one of the largest mobile-device, real-time MMOs (available on Android and iOS).
The game itself is visually unremarkable; barely animated, two-dimensional sprites overlay Google Maps. The game is described as “location based,” which means your avatar can exist in-game in the same location you are in the real world. However, travel isn’t limited to your GPS location–when you visit a city even once, it is added to a quicklist and you can return to it anytime. People are usually quite generous and give tours, dragging large groups of people all over to city centers to help flesh out their travel portfolios. Perblue adds new content fairly often, and once in a while releases a new age (major game mechanics change or are added). The newest,“Age of Ascension,” introduced airships which let players tool about in the skies above PK and do pretty much the same thing as on the ground, kill monsters and collect goodies. More than a million accounts have been created (although the daily login counts are in the thousands, as I understand it).
The game’s critiques are almost universally that it is “boring, laggy, slow, has lousy graphics, is buggy and gimmicky.” So why is it that after 3 years (or even 3 days, really) I am still playing?
Let’s go back to my first experience with PK. It’s February of 2011 and I’m sitting in the waiting room for the dentist and I was looking for something new to play besides the latest spin-off version of Angry Birds. I download PK, fill out my information and begin the ten-step tutorial. I learn a little bit about the currency of the game, how to equip weapons and armor, building structures and walking my dog (who I named NumbNuts). My movements are limited to a one kilometer circle around my avatar. There are little flags all around that I can click on and travel to move my circle. In this manner I am free to move about the city–or at least I would be if the people who built the flags in the first place made them open to the public. Quickly, I learn how to burn down flags and build my own, allowing me less restricted movement.
I play for about a month, gain a few levels, improve my gear, chop some trees and kill some baddies. Ultimately the game has no interesting hook to keep my attention. My randomly assigned mentor goes inactive before I do, so I don’t even have someone to ask questions of, nor do I know what questions to ask. I go back to Angry Birds for six more months and forget I have PK installed.
I’m not sure what made me open the game again, but I did and I saw movement. There was another little floating head (avatars for a long time were just floating heads) running about my circle. Up until that point, I thought I was alone in the world, wandering about Mad Max style looking for monsters to kill and trees to burn, but now there was someone else! I sent him a message and we chatted a little bit. Eventually he invited me to join his kingdom. I thought I knew all the game mechanics but I was very, very wrong.
It turns out that I joined the third largest and most influential kingdom at the time, with over 70 active members. Remarkably, three of them lived in my hometown. I learned that there are several chat-rooms that are heavily frequented, and a private kingdom chat where we can interact as we flag out new territory and gain experience. Several of the kingdom members were really into helping noobs like me learn the game, and gave me lots of loaner gear to help me level up faster. We made hunting parties and ran dungeons and every day I learned something new about the world. The game became fun. Nothing about the graphics or game mechanics had changed, just my perspective.
One morning, about 6 months after I joined the kingdom, I woke up to a message saying I’d been kicked out. I was devastated–why would my friends do such a thing? I sent around messages and found I wasn’t alone–the whole kingdom had been taken over by a treacherous mole who worked his way up our ranks until he had kingly privileges and then used them to steal our castle, our territory, and all our hard work out from under us. I’m not sure who was in on it, but the decision was made that if we can’t have our kingdom, no one can. We called our ally kingdoms to the castle and had them siege it to rubble.
Most of us wanted to stick together so we founded another kingdom and many of our old members joined (with some careful scrutiny and a vote for any inquiring players). Moles would not take our kingdom twice, or so we thought. We built up our new kingdom and everyone was having a good time when I woke up one morning to find another message telling me I’d been kicked out. Just like before, one person was left–though this time it wasn’t anyone I knew.
“My_belle” was holding our kingdom and refused to return it. It turned out she was the best, most notorious, and most cutthroat player in PK. Her tactics gave the game designers both grief and ideas, and she and her allies made sure the rest of the PK world slept in their castles with one eye open. When I learned all this, I actually felt a little better about losing our kingdom to her–to draw the attention of someone so high profile was kind of fun. That said, we were once again faced with the problem of the mole. There was a lot of drama after that, and the kingdom members split into three factions who all declared that one of the other two must have been the mole. To this day I don’t know who sold us out, but I’m pretty sure the faction I picked wasn’t it, as the kingdom I’m in is still around.
Since that time, I’ve made about twenty or so good friends and around one hundred acquaintances that I talk with in open chats as often as I’m on. For me, the game is all about the players–it doesn’t have graphics like Skyrim or a story like Final Fantasy 7 or even sound effects. What Parallel Kingdom has is good people, players who care about each other and the game.
Justin Beck, CEO of Perblue speaks often at conferences about the present and future of mobile gaming, and says that the time for Parallel Kingdom’s game model has passed. Even his own company has created a new, 3D game (Greed for Glory) with pretty graphics and no real-time, simultaneous user interaction–because that’s where the money is. He might be right. However even now, years after I first joined a kingdom, players are still playing and chatting and having a good enough time to keep coming back to those 2D sprites running around a Google Map, and I’ll likely be there with them until they turn the servers off for good.