It's the last day of an era! - On the closing of "1000 Heroz"
1000 days is a long time. Dictatorships can be overthrown to form a fertile ground for democracies, helpless babies become jolly children and the world of videogames spawns hundreds of new titles. Games that can keep players' attention for longer than a few months are rare and have to be updated with new content regularly to keep players interested. This usually happens with AAA titles only, with the likes of StarCraft or World of Tanks where large development teams are at work to foster the virtual environment for many years.
Smaller, simpler games usually don't have the luxury of this elaborate treatment. They get developed quickly, after all, so why waste time and money to try to avoid the inevitable? People lose interest in games after a short period of time anyway, and then move on to the next title. Sure, you can try to make your birds angry, become a marketing behemoth and also crank out some new titles of the same game once in a while. But starting out with a clever but confined iOS game about wobbly little running figures that should last for a thousand days seems bold, to say the least.
But this is exactly what happened in June of 2011. "Imagine a game that lasts for a thousand days!" the announcements trailer blared two months before release. Here was a game that wanted to take us on a journey through the history of humanity, rebuilt in a simplistic little virtual comic world. The very first "heroz" represent our primitive but brave ancestors from the stone age, whereas cultures, skills and science steadily progressed over the days, weeks, months and years, a time in which we never really stopped playing 1000 Heroz.
I remember the Summer of 2011 when I finally decided to buy an iPad (2) to be able to dive into this new exciting and in many parts also creatively inspiring world of smartphone and tablet gaming. IOS was a new frontier, for developers and gamers alike, and it seemed natural that an unsual idea like a game around a daily run feature fixed to a certain day and time would find its place here. My first hero was Zigga The Tresher, the female hero of Day 82 on August 27th, 2011. I got rank 351 (out of 3865) that day. At that time I didn't know that from that moment on I would play this game to its very last day - with really just a few, small breaks in between.
1000 Heroz was a daily ritual, something I craved for almost every day, even when I only had a few minutes time left to play it. I took it with me to work and on vacation, on the streets and on the plane, presented it to friends and acquaintances in the hopes of finding soul mates for the game who would maybe share my passion for more than a few weeks. Indeed, by browsing through the highscore tables, I once found one person who - judged by his moniker Alex82Vienna - looked like he would also be from my hometown of Vienna, Austria. We became Game Center friends, and - together with a good old real life friend of mine, who also grew fond of the game over time - formed the basis of our little AT clan to show off our collective skill on the score boards.
At the end of 2011, clans became big throughout the whole game. People from English and French speaking countries formed their teams, one famous group with the mysterious name of TOS dominated the leaderboards in an unsettling manner to this very day. It must have been in 2012, when suddenly the fame of TOS was diminished briefly by saucy French teenagers by the team name of COF who mocked the TOS clan and its members and delivered some decent scores of their own. The formerly quiet community who used to silently post its scores and sometimes have a civilized chat in the forums, suddenly became a lively group of people. Now you could really see and feel how much passion this little game had evoked in its avid players and how much it meant to them.
To cool down the agitation and lighten the mood, French player Bengitou introduced the League Mondiale, an all but trivial league system that worked outside the plain leaderboards provided by Finnish game developer RedLynx (independent by the release of the game, later bought by Ubisoft). The League Mondiale brought the very active players together, opened up the chat between them and established a better feel for the people behind all those names you saw and fought every day in the highscore tables. The star runners were also present there and kept delivering their high quality runs. Also, with the functionality of replays not available initially, this new feature now allowed for everyone to study the best current run. It was debated in the forums whether this was a good thing or not, whether it's okay for others to copy one's "perfect line" or not. Discussions didn't end there. It seemed fussy in hindsight to talk about whether or not it is appropriate to play a good run offline and post it shortly before the day is over so that no one can study the replay and redo it. But it mainly was a testament to how far and deep a little, seemingly simple game can go that could have been just another small fad in a crowded game space. Which, seen from the business side, it unfortunately was.
Although 1000 Heroz was basically abandoned after two years, players still wouldn't leave.
1000 Heroz, although loved by a small group of dedicated people, wasn't the commercial success the developers had hoped for - quite the opposite was true. The game did never really break through a larger group of people, and PR was sparse. The game could in no way compete with the studio's hit series Trials and all its cheesy dirt und Rock'n'Roll glory. 1000 Heroz didn't have an "adult" feeling, it was colorful and quirky, but also never a thing that translated itself to kids or a mainstream audience very well, due to the strong competitive game design. The initial price was dropped after a while and a new in-app purchase system was introduced which featured diamonds which you could trade in for replays. You could find diamonds in the game, but only on rare occasions - so you had to buy diamond packs. What seems a viable monetization method for so many free to play games now just didn't work for 1000 Heroz. The player base was too small, so also the replays became free after a while and the diamond system was dropped. Gold, which is collected automatically while you run your miles through the hundreds and hundreds of little levels in the game, never was assigned a function. It was probably meant as an in-game currency but was never established - so it became merely a display of how much time a certain user has put into a game. If the gold count was way over one million, you knew that you didn't deal with a casual player here.
Although 1000 Heroz was basically abandoned after two years with developers showing up in the forums just once in a blue moon, players still wouldn't leave. Aside from the now defunct monetization system the game also had several little bugs that were never fixed. You can still make a perfect jump into a cannon with a good chance of not getting shot out of it but just running through it without anything happening. Also, the replay system brought to light an incompatibility in the game's physics engine. It became clear after a while that older and newer iOS devices had slight differences in how the physics worked, which provoked some angry postings, but it was never enough to finally call it a day for those who stuck with the game since its early days.
When the last quarter of the game's time period had arrived, the dynamics of the big days were over, but the members of the community were still reassuring each other of the merits of the game by telling their personal 1000 Heroz stories. This involved gamer parents explaining their hobby of playing "the little running man" every day to their family, the growing up of a child through the years with the game and even a marriage that followed after the husband proposed with a 1000 Heroz artwork from RedLynx that was handmade for the occasion.
Today, on the very last and the only four digit long day of the game, three of the four AT clan members will meet up in Vienna in the same room and play the very last hour of the game together. It took 1000 days and it still went by too fast. I have played a lot of games, some of them over many years, too, but nothing was quite like the experience I had with 1000 Heroz. It will be remembered as a special time with a small but competitive surprise for almost three years every day waiting for me in my bag or pocket.
Thank you, RedLynx, for making it possible and shoutouts to all the loyal players who have populated the leaderboards together for such a long time, all the way through.