by Max Barry

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The Sad State of NationStates 2

by Max Barry
Wed, 20 May 2009

Jolt, developer of NationStates 2 and ex-host of this site, has announced the imminent shutdown of NationStates 2, with the game to go off the air indefinitely on July 1st, 2009.

I realize that last you heard, NationStates 2 was my baby, endorsed by me and financially supporting me and this site. So allow me to clear that up.

For months now, Jolt has been operating NationStates 2 without my authorization, profiting from my trademark, domain name, and original game design while paying me nothing. As you might expect, I've been less than thrilled about this. I haven't taken action to shut them down, though, as I didn't want NS2 players to be left in the lurch. NS2 is not my favorite game—parts of it are great, but as a whole it's a pale, deformed version of the game I designed—but some people are enjoying it, and are invested in their nations. So I've let it run, even though I feel pretty ripped about Jolt taking my work.

Now Jolt says that NS2 is closing, and "substantial work" will be performed on it, and eventually it may rise again in retooled form. I have no idea what this means, but I note that Jolt's strategy these days is all about herding players from less profitable games to more profitable ones. I was told to push players from NS1 to NS2; now NS2 players are being pushed onward to something else. The ultimate destination of this quest over burning bridges, I imagine, must surely be a game in which players compete to throw the most cash at Jolt.

I also note that Jolt's two flagship products are copies of other people's games with an unrelated brand name stuck on top: "Legends of Zork," for example, is a clone of Dragon Tavern, and has little to do with Zork, while "Utopia Kingdoms" is a rebadged Khan Wars that has little to do with Utopia. Other Jolt games, like Truckz (and, for a while, NationStates), were acquired from indy designers and Jolt's contribution has been to insert ads.

Which is fine; after all, Jolt is a business, albeit one that ignores my invoices. But this is not the kind of thing that implies a commitment to gameplay or community. So if I was a NationStates 2 player, I would not hold out much hope that this "substantial work," if it occurs, is for my benefit. I would guess it is more about developing exciting new ways to pay Jolt money. And I would not be surprised if any reworked NS2, if it does eventually emerge, turns out to be an entirely new game, copied from somewhere else, with a big brand name and no real connection to NationStates.

I've always said that if it ever became impossible for me to host NationStates, I'd release the source code for free. Because I'm not here to make money. Even when I created this game, back in 2002, I hoped it could help promote my novels, but a big reason for doing it was just because I thought it would be cool. And that's the main reason I run this site today: because we're a cool site, with a smart, quirky, sometimes prickly, and occasionally bizarre community, a style of debate and discussion you don't see anywhere else, and almost seven years of history.

We have millions of nations, and probably as many stories. Players here reminisce about regions that rose and fell, about Delegates who were betrayed, about alliances that were infiltrated, and ideological battles waged on the forum. I don't think Jolt gets that. I don't think they understand there's more to a game than its revenue—that games can become universes, and people live there. And that sincerely disappoints me, because I hoped NS2 could be something special.

NationStates—the original—is, thankfully, self-hosted these days. We have some plans, but our most important one is to not go anywhere. Thanks for sticking with us.