Category Archives: Growtopia

Seth answers Growtopia questions (FAQ)

What is a F.A.Q.?

It means frequently asked questions.  It’s a single webpage that I can direct people to for detailed answers to common questions.  I also have one for my BBS games here which I sold to another company.

I’ll update it to modify and add questions as needed. (last updated 8/17/2020)

Why did you sell Growtopia in 2017?

I can only speak for myself for all of these answers, but after four years Growtopia had gotten too big. Too many players, not something I’d ever consider a problem before it happened.

While we were able to hire great customer support folks, it was still only Hamumu and myself developing and running the game.  

We were stretched too thin.  When you’re taking money for a product, you have a responsibility. 

The legal responsibility grows proportionally to your player count and how much they’re spending.  Too much cash was being spent for us to claim ignorance if something went wrong.  

What if a backup failed?  What if we screwed up on COPPA compliance?  The excuse of “hey, we’re just two people” wouldn’t cut it anymore.

The pressure builds.  After four years of running Growtopia I started to have regular nightmares, usually involving backups failing during a rollback or other server problems.

In the end, selling the game meant it could continue to see new features and grow, without us having to become bosses and have employees and all that, things we never wanted.

We got to use the profit from the sale to remain small and happy indies that can work on what we want, when we want.

In my experience that’s extremely rare you get a chance like that so I feel really lucky it worked out.

Would you ever come and work on the game as a real dev?

No. Assuming I was ever asked, I couldn’t accept the job.

Working on an MMO is not something you can do part time, you have to eat and breath it and get woken up by alarms at 3 AM when something breaks.

My life has changed now, less stress and very different kinds of challenges including running a cafe and hotel with Akiko. (Hotel? Well, er, it’s only one (amazing) room, but we are officially licensed as both a restaurant and hotel)

Growtopia is being ruined!

Ok, that’s not really a question but it’s something people say to me sometimes, especially when the server is down.

People tend to remember the positives of history rather than the negatives.  But if you go back to the forums there was no time after the first year we ran the game there were not “Growtopia is ruined and dying now” threads being made.

The life of this kind of game is all about change – breaking, fixing, adding, and very little removing.

The bigger the change or addition, the greater the risk.  The more systems piled on top of each other it is increasingly challenging it is to keep it all running smoothly. I have a lot of sympathy for the developers as I know their pain. :)

I hope they succeed and the game runs forever but there isn’t really any kind of comment I can make on this kind of thing, especially since I don’t play much or know what the issues are.

If the game isn’t for you, try something else for a while, it’s perfectly normal and ok to get tired of a game and bounce around.

I was banned for no reason, please help me by contacting Ubisoft

Sorry I can’t.  I don’t have access to the logs or support system, I’m the wrong person to ask. 

It would be really awkward if I was trying to do any kind of modding while not actually on the support team!

You need to go through the normal Growtopia help channel here.

Do you still play GT?  Can you sign my board?  Take a selfie with me in the game?

This is kind of complicated to answer.  Currently my @Seth account remains completely locked (even from me) unless I specifically ask for it to be unlocked for a period.  I like it this way.

The reasons for this are: security (it’s VERY bad if this account gets hacked), performance (if people see I’m online, they ALL msg me at once, can cause problems), and also something I call “the rumor wildfire” – sometimes a rumor starts that a hacker is using my account and mods and support gets flooded with emails about this emergency – so it’s important that they know in advance when I’ll be online.

So in the end, I almost never ask that my account be unlocked because it’s a hassle for everybody and I don’t want to cause any trouble.  (Ubisoft has been very cool about it, but I still feel bad)

I tried using another account but.. Mehhh, it’s just not the same.

It’s pretty rare that I login these days for anything other than P.A.W. for reasons stated above.  

However, if I’m online in the game I will make every effort to accommodate those kinds of requests, I use /rgo a lot.

Note: One of the conditions of the sale was nobody would ever pretend to be us, so if you ever see @Seth or @Hamumu talking to you, it’s really us!

Are you annoyed that every tweet or video you make has Growtopia related comments and questions on it?

The truth is I’m really not.  It’s proof that we made a big impact in people’s lives.  I hope nobody forgets our work on old school GT and I appreciate those players because without them I’d likely still be sweating over contract work instead of enjoying the freedom I do now.

I do feel bad if someone I replied to on Twitter gets a lot of GT related stuff they didn’t want though (they probably don’t even know what GT is!), and if I reply it makes it worse, so just tweeting at me (or emailing) directly is the best way to go for a GT related question that isn’t answered here.

Will you give me DLs and make me a mod so I can stop casinos?

No I can’t.  I’m not a GT mod or dev anymore, I’m just a player like you.  

By the way, my own kid would DEFINITELY ask developers of Fortnite for vbucks and skins before even saying hello, so I totally understand why younger players ask me that question.  I can’t ever actually say yes though.

Will you make another MMO?

No plans right now.

Can you try to buy back Growtopia?

No, I mean, even if it was for sale and I could afford it, I don’t want to run it again for the reasons mentioned above.  

Maybe in twenty years ask me again though. :)

Will you be in GT during Player Appreciation Week 2020, whenever that is?

Yep, I’ll be there and using /rgo like a madman so feel free to msg me if you see me!

When will <insert thing> be fixed or <insert thing> be added?

Sorry, I don’t know the answers to that kind of thing.

If I see the @Seth account online, is that you?

In most cases yes, but keep in mind this account may be logged on for maintenance reasons by GT staff. (To stop small locks from decaying, for example)

How were the original mods chosen?

Some were carried over because they were trusted mods in my other game Tanked, some were hand picked by me. In later days they were probably mostly suggestions from existing mods or chosen by Solorian. I can’t remember Hamumu ever picking a mod but maybe I’m forgetting.

Why don’t you wear clothes

Bodies need to breathe! Oh you mean in the game? I had the look (the cape, etc) early on and it just sort of stuck.

Oh, you know what, it was originally for a kind of super-hero alter ego I would use called “Heroman” who would run around punishing scammers but maybe I got tired of changing the clothes and just left it on. That’s why the item’s name is “Heroman Cape”.

Technical questions about servers: Were they run in RAID?

Yes, Growtopia’s server used custom picked super fast PCIe SSD raid arrays. Of course I can’t speak to the current technology state or challenges, only what we were using in 2017 and earlier.

How much did you sell GT for?

Er, I avoid answering this because it might fall within an NDA I signed, not sure. However, I’m pretty sure the number is just sitting there in the Ubisoft 2017 public financials so you might be able to figure it out.

Where did you get the music and sound effects?

Both Hamumu and I used a lot of sounds (and music) from our older games as well as new ones. (Some licensed, some created by us) As for music, Cory Mollenhour was commissioned to do the main Growtopia soundtrack. When characters talk it’s usually Hamumu’s voice.

Is there any update you regretted making? Or wish you could change how it worked entirely?

Not really, but I was worried about the vending machine update. I knew it would fundamentally change the game and giant vending machine worlds would replace “trade worlds” where people communicated more. In the end I guess it did, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I was against a global market method of buying/selling items for the same reasons. (that’s a feature that never made it in)

What did Hammu do after and do you still talk?

He’s still making great games, go play Robot Wants It All, it’s packed full of Hamumu-humor goodness.

Yes we still talk occasionally. Well, if text counts as talking, but that’s how we always communicated, we never liked meetings or phone calls!

How’s Cosmo doing, does he still play Growtopia?

He doesn’t play these days but there was a time when he and his friends from school were addicted. That’s never happened with any of my other games.

Over the years “Little cute sweet Cosmo” changed into “studies too much math genius teenager Cosmo” who is great in a different way but I’ll never forget this little guy:

Dang, just teared up posting this pic.

Even more stuff to read

If you got this far, why not go all the way and read this stuff too:

Two guys made an MMO – The Growtopia postmortem (2013)

Seth’s old Growtopia question/answer forum thread (2014)

A 3D printed World Lock

I’ve been eyeing 3D printers for quite a while and finally pulled the trigger and purchased the rather economical Flashforge Dreamer.

I actually wanted a Taz 5 but I couldn’t find anywhere to ship it to Japan at a reasonable price, so whatever.

Anyway, despite feeling a bit limited due to the smallish build area it’s been a lot of fun.


Printing an elephant


The finished elephant. The legs move with no assembly as they are printed that way!

Was up and printing in thirty minutes.  So far stuff has worked without hairspray, glue sticks, painters tape and the other things I read about that scared me.

Some Dreamer tips:

  • The SD card shows as “error” in the dreamer when you have Wifi enabled. (as of the latest firmware available on 4/22/2015)  I think it has something to do with Wifi mode taking over the SD card as it uses the SD card as a cache while printing.  They should really change the message to “busy” or something. If you need to print from SD, turn off Wifi first.
  • I almost always print with a fairly hot build plate. (65C)  I let it cool before removing the print.
  • DO NOT USE the putty knife it comes with.  It’s way too thick.  Buy one with a much thinner edged one at the store and you will be amazed at how much easier your prints come off the bed!
  • If a print is going to fail horribly, it’s probably going to be within the first 5 minutes, so check around then.


No really, that’s exactly what I was going for

Thingiverse seems like “the place” to get 3d files.  Any other good places out there?

If you have a dreamer, the first thing you notice is those spools of filament you bought from adafruit are too big.  No problem!  I used this design and a skateboard bearing to create a nice lazy susan style spool holder, it works great.

Also printed a solder spool holder just because.


A printed solder holder. See, I’m saving money already


3D printed Pi2+PiTFT case for my Growtopia monitor so it looks less like a bomb, found it here.

Ok, that’s all fine and dandy, but the real reason I wanted a 3D printer is to make my own stuff.

I used Inkscape (sort of the Blender of vector art) to generate a shape from the 2D bitmap of the Growtopia logo, imported that into Blender and extruded it.   Well, as I expected it’s a bit hard to see and crap in general.  I printed another in black filament to sort of use it as a “drop shadow”, helped a bit.

Can you recognize this logo?!

Can you recognize this logo? Er.. maybe if I raised parts to make the letters stand out more, I dunno

It was suggested on Twitter to print Growtopia characters, but man, that’s hard to do. Akiko whipped up a 3D model of a world lock for me though.


Have a 3D printer and want to print your own World Lock?  You can get the .stl from here!

What other simple Growtopia things would make sense to print?  Hrm.  Is a character really possible?  What if we painted it…

A tip about Blender to 3D Flashprint/Simplify3D’s stl scale

In Blender, I set the units to metric, then set the scene scale to 0.01.  When doing the final export I set the STL export scale to 1000 and this keeps the measurements in Blender exactly matching the final print size.  (Use the Ruler/Protractor tool in Blender to measure pieces easily)


Also, keep in mind Blender now has some helpful options to check if your models are setup right for 3D printing, you just need to enable them. Too bad the export STL button on the 3D Print menu doesn’t have a scale setting, I need that.


I bought a 9 pin dot matrix printer for $220 for my Commodore 128 a looong time ago. You’d laugh at the low resolution pictures I downloaded off Quantumlink and printed. You had to stand across the room to figure out which movie star it was. So noisy.  So slow you could read faster than it could print!

Similarly to the path 2D has taken, I believe 3D printing is now accelerating its journey towards detailed full color prints that will become a standard we all take for granted in just a few years.  Exciting times.

Dev Diary: Growtopia thoughts

What I’ve been up to

Working on Growtopia mostly.  Despite Growtopia being nearly two years old now it has just had its most profitable month!

Some stats:

Total user accounts: 5.6 million
Total worlds created: 95 million
Daily unique users: 337,000
Daily hours played: 550,000
Daily peak concurrent users: ~40,000

Sadly, that’s pretty much all I’ve been up to

As a self employed developer I’ve learned that when something does well, you focus on it and ride the money train while you can because it won’t last. You bank the extra to tide you over when things get slow.  Success dictates where you spend time because you’d be a big idiot not to.  Something like that.

This is why I worked on Legend Of The Dragon (off and on) for seven years.  As the BBS era came to a close, so did my updates.

Maintaining Growtopia is now less about programming/creating for me and more about isolating problems, fixing bugs, monitoring servers, answering the hardest support questions, scanning logs, putting out fires, figuring out why we’re having dropped packets, which incidentally, we are currently having an issue with.  Maybe a bad router, man I hate when it’s hardware.

Can I do this and still have the “emotional energy” to make something new (part time)?  To actually program again?  Hmm.

Two guys made an MMO: The Growtopia Postmortem

So, being the master of game marketing that I am, I’ve carefully been totally silent here on my blog about my latest game, despite being released five months ago.


The game now regularly hits 3,000 players online at once and has been financially a huge success.  (At least by my humble standards!)  It’s been a top 1000 grossing US App Store game for the past four months and doing similarly well on Android – all without being featured and zero paid advertising.

 11-9-2014 update:  We’ve grown!  We now regularly hit 40,000 players online, have 5+ million users and around 300K daily active users.  80 million+ worlds have been created by users.

 2-2-2017 update:  We’ve grown more!  We now regularly hit 65,000 players online, have 20+ million users and around 500K daily active users.  450 million+ worlds have been created by users.

Today I’m finally sitting down to document how this project took shape as well as the trials and tribulations.

September 8th, 2012: Six pictures

After my highly competitive multiplayer online game Tanked was more or less finished,  I began thinking about a new game.  Something that would capitalize on the networking client/server experience I’d gained but apply it to a fresh idea with simpler controls that would be more accessible.

Despite Tanked being 3D, I decided to do the game in 2D – faster development and we could target even very crappy mobile devices.

With Tanked, I felt my fatigue in “doing it all, alone” was the cause of my non-existent marketing efforts (I’ve STILL never done a youtube video for Tanked?  REALLY?!?!), as well as reluctance to add the final layers of polish.  I needed a partner, someone to provide a mutual motivation as well as handle the artistic needs of the project.

So with that in mind, I presented six mock-up screenshots to long-time IRC pal and fellow indie, Mike Hommel, aka Hamumu to entice him to come aboard.

Here are the original shots (created using stolen sprite rips mostly) for your viewing displeasure (I’m no artist!):

concept0concept1 concept2 concept3 concept4  concept5

We changed and improved the ideas represented in these mockups over time, but stayed focused on the general goals.

He agreed to give it a shot.  Like so many indie collaborations, I suspect he was worried we’d never reach beta. Hell, me too!

I think I predicted 4-6 months to finish it.  This is usually where I would chuckle at my foolish naivety and admit it took years longer than expected but… not this time?!

The reason things went so smoothly?  Well, I guess probably because we had very few “unknowns”.

In the past, we’d both already made 2d tile based platformers, collision code, networked games, mysql based projects and websites, and done cross platform development.  Using my Proton SDK insured we could run on eight platforms (nearly) out of the box.

We figured the only real unknown was what our max player limit would be and how things would scale up.  I had guessed conservatively, 600 players online would be our max.  Luckily, I was wrong, the original server actually was able to handle much more.

September 15th, 2012: Networking and collision are functional


The above shot shows four instances running around in the same world.  All graphics are just DrawRects for now.  The collision is incredibly simple and as a result gives us very few problems later as we tweak it for special tiles and items later.  The game is written in C++ with GL/GLES.

I think one reason this project went so fast is I was able to fight the urge to go overboard on everything like I usually do.  There are no fancy 2d physics.  I mean hey, we’re not making Limbo here. It would be overkill.  I think it helps that I had already done the box2d physics platformer thing in a previous project so I didn’t really feel like I had something to prove, if that makes sense.

I’ve never actually met Mike in person, he’s in California and I’m in Japan.  But if anything, that probably helped – we are able to work on the code base (he programs too!) in (roughly) day/night shifts which helps avoid svn code conflicts.

We use IRC and Google Docs to communicate – spreadsheets for tracking hours and financial stuff, and the drawing board to share screenshots and ideas.   The best part is we have a full history of everything we’ve done, that’s where I’m getting most of the screenshots for this article!

September 21st, 2012: GUI designs


The GUI starts to take shape via Hamumu’s mockups.

October 18th, 2012: Doors, signs, chat, inventory, and one kind of lock working


In roughly five weeks, the game looks pretty similar to its current form.

November 30th, 2012:  The game is stealth-released on Android as a free beta after three months of development

We were unable to use the original name we wanted (Buildo) as someone else was sort of already using it.  After a VERY painful few days we finally agree on Growtopia.  I really couldn’t get anything done during that period, strange that stress of finding a game name could grind everything to a halt like that.  I was never totally satisfied with the name, but it’s very searchable so that’s a perk.  The domain name was taken so we had to live with


IAP is disabled initially as we expected to reset the universe a few times. (We ended up never having to do that)

There were no “World Locks” yet, so people tended to clump together in little towns, locking their areas with the smaller lock types.

Despite the total stealth release (I didn’t even mention the beta on my website) the player base quickly grows.  It’s the perfect design for PR slackers like us,  very viral in nature due to the social aspects.

January 9th, 2013: The game is released on iOS, and the word beta is removed from the Google Play description

The release!  We get a boost from Touch Arcade, Pocket Gamer and IndieGames who all post our teaser video.  (we sent it to them and a few other sites, that was pretty much it for our marketing campaign)

We stress out as we watch the users online grow.  200 users, 300 users.. 600 users online at once!  Will the server die?  We upgrade our server three times in two weeks to handle the increase, wondering if after the initial surge we’ll need to go back to the cheaper one.  Servint, our data center, did a great job of quickly migrating us from server to server as needed.

Life after release, where we are now

Like a newborn, we found the game screaming for our non-stop attention.  We find ourselves constantly putting out fires and dealing with issues. 600 hundred forum posts a day to read, hundreds of daily support emails.

There is no finish line, there is no “done” – we’ve basically worked full time on the game since its release.

Our game has an extremely sensitive virtual economy that could be decimated in only hours by a rampant bug.

A single server crash can cause an hour of lost work per player online.  A single day roll-back on a busy day now would mean instantly vaporizing SEVEN HUMAN YEARS worth of effort.

These things weighed very heavily on me in the beginning.  I had trouble sleeping and would check the server throughout the night to make sure it was still running correctly.  After a while though, you sort of reach a certain level of numbness/comfort with it all.

I guess I’ll forgo the usual “what went right/wrong” and just illuminate the most important/damaging events and how we dealt with them.

If it’s possible, it shall be drawn

Well, we knew it had to happen.  I appeared in their world and gave them five minutes to remove it, but secretly I was sort of proud, it’s sort of a developer achievement to have someone miss-use your creative tools like this.


As our player count grew, we found our player discipline tools inadequate.  Over time we beefed them up.

The problem with tape


Instead of simply muting people, we thought it would be much cooler to visually duct-tape their mouth shut.  When they attempt to speak, only muffled noises come out.

The end result wasn’t what we expected.  Being duct-tape quickly became the goal. When players saw us, they’d mob us yelling obscenities, hoping to be taped.  We had to make a new rule: “If you try to get taped on purpose, we’ll just ban you” to keep it under control.

The item duping

Due to a bug a patch introduced, it became possible to log on with two instances of the same player for a short while if you did it at EXACTLY the perfect time.  Within hours a group of Asian players had figured it out and were duping like mad.  I remember using google translate on Growtopia related Korean message boards trying to figure out the method used.


Knowing it was happening, but not understanding the modus operandi was VERY stressful, we had to spy and watch them doing it.  We figured it out and patched the server.  We hand deleted the ill-gotten gains as best we could (we didn’t want to roll back!), but it quickly becomes impossible to track as items are traded.  For a while, we had the server report anyone with > 100 world locks and we’d just assume they were holding duped items and punish the account.  Nowadays that wouldn’t work because many legitimate players have earned that much wealth through normal gameplay.

The bedrock bug

One day fairly early in Growtopia’s lifetime (I think it was still in the wide beta on android) we made a horrible mistake with user security levels which let anybody destroy bedrock and white doors.  (Normally a player can’t destroy these tiles, as means player can fall out of the world at the bottom, and can’t enter worlds the normal way)

Twenty minutes had passed before I’d noticed the frenzied broadcasts that excitedly shared the bug – not only were people destroying normally impenetrable blocks, those blocks were giving seeds, which would grow into trees that would eventually yield more of the forbidden blocks, letting the user place them!

This bug really didn’t cause too much damage, but we were running around fixing holes in levels and replacing missing entrance doors for weeks.  We also added a filter that would remove those items from peoples inventories.. but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is still a bedrock tree growing somewhere out there and you do still see the occasional bedrock piece missing from older worlds.

The IAP hackers – “Someone is giving away world locks”

Like most developers,  I’ve grown used to the idea knowing that people are pirating my games.  I don’t stress too much, it doesn’t ruin the experience of others for the most part.

But if thousands of dollars worth of gems are stolen via fraudulent means, it has a real impact on us as it is pumped into the game economy.

We’d watch would-be thieves dump their contraband in remote locations.  We’d wait (invisibly) and see who came to pick it up, track down the persons main hideout and ban them all.  Eventually we upgraded our server to do full IAP receipt checking, but life had a certain cops ‘n robbers taste to it for a while.

We still have issues with stolen credit cards and chargebacks, but it’s now at manageable levels for the most part.

The Tapjoy hack

Tapjoy is a great way to let players watch a 20 second commercial, to buy gems using their time, and only if they choose to.  (They get 90 gems, we get 5 cents, or whatever)  However, due to me using it wrong (similar to IAP, I was using my code from previous single player games I worked on rather than custom stuff with full server verification) it was very vulnerable to client hacks, as illustrated in the image.


I wasted a lot of time writing code to detect hacks and such, when I should have just re-implemented Tapjoy the correct way, which I eventually did anyway.  It now runs flawlessly.


The virtual economy made item trading and bartering very important.  The original release had no secure way to trade, only “drop trading”.  Naturally scamming was prevalent. We told people “Never drop trade with people you don’t know!”

We introduced a robust trading system as quick as we could.


The blueberry hack

Due to a server vulnerability, it was possible to hack a client to give you unlimited blueberries.  (Basically, when using it to eat, a special case happened where it didn’t check if you actually had any left)

We were perplexed why a certain group of players had so many blueberries, it didn’t make sense… someone eventually emailed us and explained the trick and we quickly patched it.  Thanks, sir.

The wall hack

It turns out the first thing that people do in a game like this is use a memory scanning utility (a “trainer”) to locate important memory addresses (speed, X/Y position, etc) and modify them.  We realized wall hacking would be possible, but didn’t think it was a big deal due to our lock/ownership systems. (If someone gets into your locked area, it doesn’t really matter, the server wouldn’t let them take anything)

However, players liked to drop items around their worlds, which presented juicy targets for wall hackers.   We quickly combated this with clever server + client hacks which worked pretty well, but in the end we removed all doubt by adding full A* path finding on every single player movement.  (this wasn’t possible for speed reasons until the V2 server upgrade.. more on that later)

The black day – the rollback

But it wasn’t the hackers or credit card fraud that did the worst damage.  It was us!

On February 23th our worst nightmare became a reality.  We’d inadvertently made some changes that caused certain very cheap items to give out a high number of gems when “recycled”, this created an infinite money loop.   As soon as it was noticed, someone “broadcasted” it which meant every single person online knew how to earn unlimited gems.   The entire economy was trashed in only minutes.

We had to roll back almost 24 hours worth.  (We do automated backups daily.. and sometimes I do extra backups before a serious patch, but today I didn’t for some reason)

That weekend was dubbed “Apology Weekend” and we worked quickly to add perks and gems bonuses to try to make it up to the players.  If you ever see a “Rollback Plaque”, it was earned by someone on that weekend.  We wrote a program to restore all gem purchases that had been wiped, with double the gems.


This was a wake-up call to more seriously test things before patching.  It’s tough trying to surprise your audience with something new (we’re very secretive) and yet wanting to properly test it.  We now do have a fully functional beta test server that we can route normal players into.

That day was easily the absolute worst for me personally.  I’m  happy to say we haven’t had another roll-back yet.

Too many users

In mid April we hit 2,000 concurrent users on weekends and our server began to buckle.  Round trip to punch something could take a full second and people were constantly being disconnected.  We added live profiling support and narrowed down the slow down to world creation and enet packet sorting.

We decided I would write a “V2 server” upgrade in a separate svn branch that would take advantage of multiple cores;  it made no sense that our hardware had 16 cores and 32 threads but our entire Growtopia server process was run in a single thread.

Meanwhile, Mike would handle running the active game, adding items and preparing to move them over to the new server.

We had a lot riding on the V2 server, would it really solve our problems or fail miserably?  It’s very difficult to fake 2,000 users, so we released a client upgrade that could smoothly switch between the old server and the new beta one.

When things looked good, we just pushed a button and switched the real database over to the new server, if it died, we could just switch them back.  Anyway, it worked beautifully and we haven’t outgrown it yet.

Here’s how I explained it to users on our Facebook page: (it was actually only a software change, we didn’t change hardware.  But this was the result as far as latency and gameplay)


The freemium dilemma

After railing against slimy abuses of the freemium model myself, I vowed to do it ‘right’.  Here is what we did:

  • Only one soft currency, that can be earned in the game.
  • No paywalls, you really can get every single thing in the game without buying stuff. But more than that, the game is fun and works fine without paying – no slogging along at a snail’s pace and grinding required to do stuff.
  • $10 is the biggest IAP.
  • $30 limit per day limit to help situations like “my kid bought $500 of stuff accidentally”, as far as I know, no major mobile freemium companies do this, but really, they all should!  Actually, Apple should probably send a “ARE YOU SURE? Click OK to allow more IAP in this game” type email after anybody spends too much in a game to verify it wasn’t a mistake or a kid.
  • No annoying push messages, spamming, email sharing, etc
  • No popups asking you to buy stuff.  No pressure selling. Don’t buy stuff, you really don’t have to.
  • The expensive status/vanity items don’t have any special powers as compared to the cheap items, they just look different, which in a situation with hundreds of thousands of players to compare items with, is a real value, of sorts.  The rarity creates the value.
  • We don’t want whales, we want schools of tiny fish who will pop in a few bucks now and then.  If a customer ends up spending 5 cents an hour that would be great, and I think a decent value.
  • We want to make enough to continue working on the game and adding content/events instead of the normal “release and forget” model.

A few times we saw someone making daily purchases that seemed strangely high and emailed their Google purchasing account email directly to verify that everything was ok. (We thought it might be a kid using a parents’ device)  I don’t think we ever got a reply.  I think Apple and Google should be doing the emailing really, they have more and better information than we do.  We will disable IAP on any account by request. (the option won’t even show up in the store in that case)

I think overall we “did it fairly right”, but I still have moral reservations about this model and know that we’re exploiting certain kinds of vulnerable individuals due to the nature of open-ended purchases, even if you don’t need them.  In a single player game I don’t think it would ever be justified to extract $100 in IAP, but in an MMO where we have players with 1,000+ hours logged and who purchase presents for others, I think it isn’t totally unreasonable for an informed adult to spend that much.

But what is the line?

This is game where a kid can do a /broadcast and instantly be visited by fifty or more REAL people hanging on his every word because a prize is going to be given away.  He or she can run any kind of game within Growtopia and have complete control over these guests, ordering them around and banning at will.   I’m proud we created mechanics that allow something this amazing but also humbled by the damage this power could do to someone vulnerable.  My own son (he’s nine) has spent $40 of his own money in Growtopia over the 200+ hours he’s played.  He’s given most of it away to his “friends”.

If he’s learned a real friend doesn’t require a World Lock,  maybe it was a worthy investment.

Giving away too much

A problem with our single currency is you can make around $3 of IAP per hour farming in the game.  Our richest player has never spent a dime, and has $1000 usd worth of gems.  I’m sort of proud of that on one hand, it illustrates our game is REALLY free and not a trick.  But on the other hand, I don’t know what he should spend his 1,000,000+ gems on.  If we add a 100,000 gem “Vanity item” in the store, eight year olds are also going to be pressured to use IAP to buy that essentially worthless item to keep up with the Jones’.  (Worthless as far as functionality, but .. well, the value as trading power due to the rarity and cost is very real in a multiplayer society like this one)

It will be a challenge to figure all this out.

Email support system woes

Originally we handled support emails by replying and bcc’ing eachother.  This .. doesn’t scale up very well.  Eventually we setup with and now we can give much better service.  When a customer forgets to tell us his GrowID, we can just look through his history and grab it.


The future

It’s not yet written, John!

All I know for sure is I chose the perfect person to collaborate with and our combined efforts have definitely resulted in superpowers.  Llike when spandex wearing heroes stand close together they can shoot larger balls of lightning.  It’s like that but totally different.

In the five months since Growtopia’s release we’ve had 3.5 million+ worlds created by nearly 400,000 users.  Last Saturday we set the record with 65,000+ hours logged in a single day.

I don’t see any shortage of ways to improve the heart of Growtopia, which is about giving useful tools to the player to let him or her be creative with both strangers and friends; but each addition and tweak is now taking increasingly long to test and safely deploy due to the size and scope of the existing user base.  We can’t make any mistakes now, especially with huge additions going in this weekend.  No rollbacks.

Growtopia was created by Seth A. Robinson and Mike Hommel.

Additional reading: I answered a ton of GT questions asked by players back in 2014 here

Update:  In 2017 we sold Growtopia to Ubisoft.  I wrote another blog post about why!