While at university I built and ran a free-to-play online community, growing it to over 25,000 players and it helped me to fund my Computer Science degree without any student loans.
I met Jason Bryan and Amber Discko while volunteering together on a different game that didn’t manage to go anywhere. We decided that we could go it on our own, and create our own game. We were inspired by games we loved like Habbo Hotel and Animal Crossing to create a casual MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game. I was just starting university and instead of spending all my time drinking, I spent countless hours working with Jason improving our game.
The team was entirely remote: I was in the UK doing all things product and design; Jason in California running development; and Amber in Connecticut managing and growing the community. This meant a lot of late night Skype calls for me!
We started developing Lasuni in 2008, and early on decided that we wanted to build the game publicly. We thought this would allow us to grow a community while building out the features and better adapt the game to what our players wanted. The initial version of Lasuni launched in January 2009 and we eagerly watched as new users began to sign up. As we were a small independent team (with no money) we did everything ourselves: from building the core game, website and community management tools to marketing, social media, payments integrations and even a podcast. As the game grew we had a team of volunteers help to moderate the game, answer support tickets and run community events to engage our players.
In the end we essentially built Lasuni twice, the first version was built using Shockwave, and then a second version in Flash - in the end neither turned out to be great technology choices!
Lasuni was a free-to-play virtual world that users can access directly from their browsers without any large downloads. In Lasuni, users could make new friends, complete exciting quests, play mini games, and participate in community events. Each user had their own unique avatar allowing them to express themselves and to stand out from the crowd.
I created many virtual locations for users to explore within Lasuni. Below is Hubble, the hub for Lasuni, where users could then access different areas and rooms. Each area changed with the seasons and had special designs for holidays such as Christmas and Halloween.
Lasuni was a multi-user game, so everybody online could see each other and communicate. We built multiple tools to help players interact including a friends list and messenger so you could leave your friends messages even if they weren’t online.
During the 6 years of Lasuni I created 1,699 items that players could use to customise their avatars. This led to a huge variety of character designs with Lasuni. Players loved being able to customise their characters with 193,238 items being bought.
Lasuni was free-to-play for all users, with premium features available though micro-transactions (life before IAP). Users could purchase gold (premium in-game currency) to buy exclusive items for their avatar and become a Lasuni VIP. Gold could be purchased in several ways, via paypal, credit card or by SMS (with integrations with Zong and Onebip). The VIP system provided numerous benefits in-game including visual status and an exclusive monthly item - this provided incentive for users to subscribe to not miss out.
Players could earn silver, the free currency, in Lasuni by playing mini-games. Our first mini-game was Whack-a-lion where users battled to have the top score each week.
A later update allowed users to create their own spaces (rooms) in Lasuni. This allowed a whole new level of creativity as players weren’t reliant on the locations that we had created. It also meant players could collect furniture as well as clothing.
As we built the game out we released new features to the website, eventually building out extensive social features. Each player had their own profile page where friends could leave messages. The profiles were highly customisable allowing players to add and rearrange what content they want on their page as well as choose a background. The main feed on the website had over 40,000 messages shared with >50,000 comments.
Screenshots of Lasuni through it’s 6 years oldest to newest.
While Lasuni wasn’t a success in many ways, we still achieved a lot. We managed to earn enough money from in-game purchases to fund my degree, and I learnt so much about what it takes to make a good product.
But most importantly we built a hugely passionate community of over 25,000 players - it warms my heart to know so many friendships were made through our little game.
As our lives go busier we found we had less-and-less time to dedicated to adding new features to Lasuni. Despite this our players and were loyal and kept playing. However, in 2015 we made the difficult decision to close Lasuni, with flash becoming increasing irrelevant and no time to dedicate to future development we thought it was best to shutter the doors. In true Lasuni fashion we had one last huge event to say goodbye to our players and to thank them for sticking with us for so long 💖.