This message appears to the player after they've loaded 3000 pages, presumably only if they haven't gained any Supporter Points. It never appears again. Scientists have not yet determined what happens if a player donates before their 3001th page-load.
Hello! My name's CavemanJoe, I'm the admin here at Improbable Island, and I think it's time you and I had a little chat.
Or, you can just skip down to the bottom of the page and carry on your merry way!
So. You've downloaded over three thousand pages on Improbable Island! That's an awful lot of clicking and keypresses! I really hope you're having a good time. You might be wondering why I'm interrupting your game like this, so I'll tell you. There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly - I'd like to hear from you! We've got an active forum at http://enquirer.improbableisland.com, in which it'd be nice to hear any ideas or suggestions you might have. Surely in your thousands of page loads you've found something that could be improved upon?
Secondly, you haven't got any Supporter Points!
Yes, this is me saying "stick a couple of bucks in the hat, will you?" - yeah, you knew it was coming eventually - but I'm hoping to do it in a way that's at least interesting, and shows you a little bit about how running an online game actually works these days.
Improbable Island is still pretty much a one-man show. I have some awesome moderators who help me out with the day-to-day running of the game so that I can spend my days coding, but the design and programming of the game beyond its original (Legend of the Green Dragon 1.1.1) codebase is single-handed. In 2009 I took the plunge, crossed my fingers, and quit my day job to work full-time on Improbable Island.
It's been pretty good so far. It's meant taking a pay cut, but I'm happier and I get to do something that affects more people, so that's more than balanced out.
Still, it's a demanding job. I don't know if you've ever tried to make a game before, but if you have then you'll know how much of a pain in the bum it is trying to balance everything out so it's fair and challenging, never mind the actual programming, writing, artwork creation, layout, graphic design and so forth. When you're talking about a game with several thousand participants, it gets even harder.
It's especially hard when you consider that if you want to make any sort of real money in online games, you've got to be a complete asshole.
You've got to splatter flashing banner ads and popups all over your pages. You've got to set up cynical gameplay mechanics that are designed for nothing more than to keep people coming back (like growing virtual crops that you absolutely have to harvest between 8 and 10 pm tonight or they're wasted). You've got to encourage your players to sign up for dodgy offers for free iPods. You've got to charge money for absolutely everything you can, and you've got to make sure that the people with the most money are the people with the highest rankings in the game. You've got to hit the psychological buttons discovered over decades of research into gaming and the marketing thereof; you've got to create rare items that people want not because they're useful, but because scarcity goes hand-in-hand with perceived value (there are only two Stinking Buckets of Dead Eels on the whole Island! I've gotta get one!). You've got to have a subscription option rather than one-time payments, because people forget to cancel their subscriptions. You've got to spam your players' FaceBook pages with all sorts of meaningless drivel so that social obligation keeps them playing long after the game is no longer fun. Your marketing has to be a cynical grab at the teenage boy market, enabled by the inclusion of preposterously large breasts in every banner ad. You have to base your game around a pre-established theme or a license to some TV show, because coming up with new ideas costs time and money. You have to create mindless, repetitive gameplay and then charge money for items that allow your players to skip over the boring parts. You have to make your players compete with each other on parameters that they can influence with money, because some of them will go nuts trying to keep up with the Joneses. You have to make awful, shallow games with the widest possible appeal to the lowest common denominator and attach enormous marketing and artwork budgets because everybody knows that pretty anime-themed games targeted at 17-25 year old males make shedloads of money, especially when you throw in some of the aforementioned preposterously large breasts. With very few exceptions, you don't get rich in online games by making good games, or even by trying to be a decent bloke.
You certainly don't get rich by only advertising on webcomic sites that you personally enjoy. You don't get rich by putting up enormous walls of text right at the start of your game to scare away people who don't enjoy reading, and putting a gay romance right at the start to send all the homophobes scuttling off back to 4chan. You sure as hell don't get rich by only trying to attract and retain curious, intelligent, likeable players! Of which you are clearly one, or you wouldn't have gotten this far!
(see how I transparently flatter you into giving me money? Hell, it's worth a shot)
Setting up a distributed computing team and generating over a thousand years' worth of humanitarian research is cool, but it doesn't make you any money. Giving the better part of six grand to Doctors Without Borders doesn't make you any money either (in fact it costs you money! Who'd have thought it?). Fair and balanced gameplay doesn't make you money - all the time you spend balancing your game is time you could be spending mining your players' data and habits for interesting tidbits you can sell to spammers and market researchers. Games based on a post-EMP valve-and-relay future don't make any money - you should go with steampunk instead, it's very lucrative right now.
If you've got any sort of conscience, you'll end up whittling your options for making money down to two choices. The first one is to make an excellent game and then not let anybody play it unless they pay you first. The second one is to make the game free to play, and then after the player's passed a certain threshold, just go right ahead and ask them outright for some money.
But you should make it clear to them that nothing bad will happen if they don't donate. It's important that the player reading the request knows that they're not being coerced into anything, and that the game isn't going to come to a grinding halt if they don't give you any money. You can point out, if you're feeling manipulative, that their enjoyment has cost you money - which is technically true, but you've got to tell the whole truth. Three thousand pages' worth of data transfer, database storage space and (most crucially) CPU cycles only works out to pennies since you spent all those nights optimizing the codebase, so it's kinda hard to guilt the player into giving you money that way.
If you want to ask a player for money, you should point out that just under three per cent of players who sign up make a donation at some point. They're the ones who counter, in their five-and-ten-dollar donations, all the loose change that the non-donating players end up costing. The player you're asking money from shouldn't feel that if they don't donate, nobody else will, or that if they don't donate, you'll be upset with them, because you won't - it's only pennies after all.
You should tell them that you're not rich, but that you're not starving either. Be honest with them. It's true that your donating players are your only source of income - but if the player you're talking to doesn't donate, then someone else will.
So, that's what I'm doing with you right now. Asking you nicely for money using only the truth, rather than trying to lever it out of you via cheap trickery. And the truth is that Improbable Island could be making a whole hell of a lot more money than it is right now - but it wouldn't be the same place.
Improbable Island became the game that you enjoy today because its players give me just enough money to justify it as a day job. If they had given me less money, then I'd need to attract more players, meaning I'd have to be less picky about the sort of people I advertise to.
And if you're wondering what's in it for you, you should give me money because:
1) Every time you or somebody else makes a donation, more Supply Crates are dropped on the World Map.
2) You'll get 100 Supporter Points for every dollar you donate, with which you can get awesome things in the Hunter's Lodge.
3) Every donation fills up the Kitty bar a little bit more, and when the Kitty isn't empty, everybody gets more Stamina - and having any Supporter Points at all will mean that your Personal Multiplier goes up, so you have more Stamina benefit from the Kitty Bar.
4) Every dollar you give to me is a one-fingered salute to the makers of FaceBook Friends Alienator, Annual Generic Football Game 201x Endorsed by Some Guy, and The Free iPod Game.
5) If you ever meet me in a pub, you'll have already bought me a pint.
So! That's why you should donate some money towards Improbable Island's server costs, advertising budget, and my own costs of living. And if you don't donate, then I hope this message was at least interesting to read.
I'll return you to the game now. Don't worry, this is a one-time message and nothing bad will happen if you don't donate.