I developed Political Asylum from 2002 to 2004, and it stayed online until 2010. It was an online game where you took the role of a politician, vying for power and fame. Asylum was turn-based, web-based, and multiplayer. You could run slanderous ads, assassinate people, gamble illegally, burn each other’s signs, and if you got bored you could commit seppuku with a frisbee.
The goal was simple: build something on the web for my friends to play that has never been done before. I’m sure there are many multiplayer political games by now, but at the time any games in this category were either medieval fantasy games or science fiction.
Since I was playing against my friends and I’d written the algorithms, I expected to be unfairly dominant in the rankings. Much to my surprise, I was pretty bad at the game: I thought in terms of how the game was supposed to work, rather than thinking about how it could work. Many people made a name for themselves exploiting amusing bugs, including the one where crappy advisors would actually pay to work for you, and the one where somebody assassinated each of their opponents ten times.
The community that rose around Asylum was incredible. People I didn’t know from all around the world joined my friends, resulting in more than a hundred people playing at a given time. CamelF was the top player of all time, and I don’t even know who he is – but he played 104 month-long games of Asylum. I was 18th best of all time (I played 30 games). Active forum members ensignyu, nitsua, and Andy_R made the all-time top ten, but nobody I met in real life did. At its peak, Asylum had almost a million page views per year.
Possibly the most satisfied I’ve ever been as a developer was the day I launched, in the summer of 2003. I put the game live, and everybody I knew in person who played went out for a big celebratory dinner (maybe 15 or 20 of us.) The feeling I had that day has since driven me to ship things, finish things, and, interestingly, to close down Altering Time when it was time to do.
As Political Asylum rose up the ranks in Google, I occasionally got emails from people actually seeking political asylum. This blew me away, and scared me somewhat, but I always tried to point them in the right direction.
1600 people played Asylum over its existence, and 167 of them played 10 or more month-long sessions. I learned a hell of a lot, had a lot of fun, and will always feel lucky that so many people enjoyed something I’d created.
Check out the gallery below for some bad user interface design, and comments about how the game worked.