Postmortem: Ironfell by David Colquhoun

10th April 2015 2:05pm - add a comment!

Ironfell was an indie hex-tile MMORTS where conflict happens massive persistent universe spanning all of time and space. With Ironfell I hoped to build a game that captured the same feeling as early Civilization and Ultima and be profitable enough to become my full time job. Ironfell was creatively a huge success, fun to play, people loved it. But financially it failed and was closed down in December 2014.

What went right

With any massive multiplayer game and the quality of the the community is critical. Early advertising targeted at role playing gamers (from stumbleupon) worked incredibly well for Ironfell. This meant that the core players were older and able to communicate well. Having a sociable and supportive community was the best thing about Ironfell. They made it fun for me to hang out in the game and talk to people. Months after the game was shut down players still send me emails like this:

“i miss ironfell soo much, especially the community :(“

The server’s behind Ironfell were four MacMini’s (quad-core i7, 16GB Ram, SSD) hosted at MacMiniColo. This was an unusual choice for servers, usually I’d use Amazon Cloud servers. Ironfell’s servers had high CPU and memory requirements, so being able to buy the server hardware up front and the fact that the servers were needed long term made the MacMini’s half as much as the Amazon cloud equivalent. Also developing on OSX and using OSX for the server operating system greatly simplified testing and deployment.

Ironfell’s lack of balance was a huge experiment (and risk). Ironfell did not have instanced or tiered battles, you always had all your resources available to fight with. So players who had been playing for a long time and players who payed for resources had an unfair advantage. Safe newbie areas and realms that only advanced players can use helped control the divide between the rich and poor. But most effective was having an end game plateau. Players reached a point where they had so much of every resource that resources stopped being important. Then allies, strategy and and skill became what mattered most.

Player quote: “I think I have enough resources to completely cover the islands in wood walls so nobody could move”

I’m a terrible illustrator, so getting Damon Keen to draw the character artwork worked incredibly well. What he came up with was absolutely perfect. It was retro cute and of such a high standard it made me proud to show people Ironfell.


What went wrong

About one in a thousand players were complete assholes. Those few players were able to ruin the game for everyone else. One psychopath intentionally forced most of the long term players to quit Ironfell. When his account was deleted, he kept coming back with aliases and spent 14 hours a day 7 days a week trying to destroy Ironfell. I wasted almost 400 hours on this one person – that’s 10% of the total time spent on Ironfell! That time could definitely have been better spent improving Ironfell. I underestimated the amount of damage a single person could do to a community. Next time I would make dealing with the worst people a core part of the game design.

Marketing a game is a huge effort and it takes an enormous amount of time. Easily a third of the time I spent on Ironfell was marketing. And I don’t think I spent enough time on this. The most effective piece of press was on Rock Paper Shotgun from simply sending out a press release.

Financially Ironfell was a failure. It had $13,648 in income from selling in game resources but subtracting artwork, servers and advertising… Ironfell made a loss of about $8000. And that does not include my time.

During the 3 years I worked on Ironfell, I spent over 4000 hours on it. The dollar value of that time is absolutely horrifying. Unless I win the lottery I will never be able to spend that much time on a non-paying project ever again.


Ironfell was incredibly ambitious and I’m happy so much of it worked as well as it did. Financial reality means that Ironfell has been closed down, but hopefully I can take what I’ve learnt from Ironfell and make an even better game one day.


Name Ironfell
Description Time travel themed hex-tile MMORTS
Platform Browser, Mac, Windows, Android and iOS
Developer Blog
Development Started December 2011
Open Beta May 2012
Live January 2013
Closed December 2014

1 full time developer.
1 contract artist.
1 contract copywriter.
Over 30,000 players.
4.7 million Ponies.


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So long and thanks for all the fish.

4th December 2014 4:47pm - 46 comments

I started Ironfell in December 2011… 3 years ago… that is a long time.

Over 30,000 people have tried Ironfell and lots of those have become addicted to it.  It’s a fun game, I still like playing it.

The Alliance update has been live for 5 months now, and I think it’s helped Ironfell a lot.  People cooperate and in general the community is better because of it. Just over a thousand people have tried the Ironfell on iOS, which is pretty good.

Financially, Ironfell has not done very well.  It’s about $8,000 in the red.  The 4000+ hours I’ve spent on Ironfell is a hideous amount of unprofitable time. Creatively, I think Ironfell has been a success.  I can now say I’ve made a MMO :)  But it stopped being fun to work on a few months ago.

I can’t justify spending more time on a project I don’t enjoy, that doesn’t make a profit.

So…. on Monday the 15th of December, 10am New Zealand time, Ironfell will be shutdown.

david,  :(

p.s. Here is a little thank you poster for the people currently playing… names in no particular order :)



Ironfell for iPad and iPhones is now live!

18th November 2014 7:47am - add a comment!

Ironfell is now live on the Apple app store.  Download it right now, for FREE!  :)


Previously I said I would make a native version for iOS,  but both Adobe Air and iOS devices have become significantly faster in the past year.  Its performance is not as good as it would be as a native app.  On old devices it will be slow, but a one year old iPhone 5c is fast enough to play it.   So… it works… its free… and you can have it right now :) 

I’ve tweaked the controls and made a few things fit better on small screens.  You can pinch-zoom at anytime to scale the interface to fit.

Enjoy :)

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Vampire Maid – Cleans up Blood Splatters!

11th September 2014 1:48pm - add a comment!

Just added the Vampire Maid.  She has auto-clean, to clean up those messy bloody splatters.  Useful for hiding the evidence of your treacherous attacks. Vampire Maids are made by upgrading a Queen next to a Tombstone.  She costs 2 million knowledge. So they are not cheap.




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Ironfell reset link bug

5th September 2014 2:35pm - one comment

There was a bug in Ironfell where players could re-use the same account reset link many times. This let people reset alt accounts many times without triggering the systems that are supposed to limit the number of times you reset. The bug is now fixed.

A handful of people used that bug to repeatedly reset alt accounts and transfer resources to their main account. The worst offender did that 187 times. These people have had their accounts disabled for 14 days.

If you find bugs, especially ones that can be used to get free resources, please let me know. I give generous rewards for finding bugs like this one. The person who told me about it just received 250k of Oil.

On a more cheerful note… here’s a sneak peak at that new unit I’ve been teasing you about…


david, :)

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Lets learn about Phishing

20th August 2014 5:51pm - add a comment!

Phishing is when someone tricks you into giving up sensitive information such as usernames or passwords usually by creating a website to impersonate a trusted website.

Phishing is pronounced the same as fishing.

A typical example of Phishing would be… you receive an email that appears to be from your bank, asking  you to sign into your online banking.  The links in the email all go to a website masquerading as your bank’s website.  You follow the link, and enter your banking details… and you’ve now given your online banking login details to the thieves. The thieves then sign into your real online bank, and transfer out your money.

Wikipedia link:

Here is an example of a phishing webpage made by James Ratcliff (aka falazar)…


I’ve blacked out the the URL for this page, because people will still be silly enough to use it.

The text specifically ask for your Ironfell details: “You must signup with your Ironfell name / details”.  If he wanted to identify people he could have asked for their Ironfell name,  but there is no valid reason to ask for your Ironfell password.  The only thing falazar would need your password for is to sign into Ironfell using your account.

This is an extremely obvious example of someone Phishing for account details.

Several Ironfell players have fallen for this trap and he has used their account details to sign into Ironfell.

Here is a excerpt from the Ironfell chat log files where he tries to convince someone to use that page.

02:05:22 falazar: :(
02:05:38 falazar: http://###############################
02:05:40 falazar: our map
02:05:42 falazar: is better :P
02:05:55 falazar: will get pics in later
02:06:02 falazar: But it shows a lot of info and is editable
02:06:13 falazar: this is what I could use help with
02:06:20 falazar: and what we will use to attack all others.
02:06:43 falazar: the links are editable, change name, desc, color, and the kill isnt active yet
02:06:49 falazar: color codes are listed

If you are curious about what his special map looks like, below is a screenshot that a user sent me:


A bit of common sense will keep you safe from phishing.  Be aware of where links are actually taking you. Use a different password for everything.  And think carefully before you enter a password into a new site.

And don’t trust anything James “falazar” Ratcliff tells you :)


UPDATE: James Ratcliff (aka falazar) response:

And here is James’s reply to the above posting, which he posted on his chatroom.

James Ratcliff Falazar

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Mute annoying players

6th August 2014 10:23am - add a comment!

If you just want to play the game, and don’t want to trash talk, you will love this feature.

I’ve just added a Mute Someone button to the top left menu.   You can add as many people as you like to the Mute List,  and you simply won’t see what they say in any of the chat windows.


Also made the Alliance Info panel taller and made the enter key submit some text fields.



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The much bigger picture

5th August 2014 5:22pm - add a comment!

When you are running a MMO Its easy to get bogged down in day to day maintenance.  The other day Lothar100 snapped my head around and reminded me about the big picture.

His full email is below, the key point for me was:

“The problems lately stemmed from an imbalance between players who are active and players who are inactive.  The reason it isn’t balanced is because the game does not have enough depth, I’m not talking about size, I mean depth.”

He is absolutely right.  Things are out of whack with newbies vs experienced players.  Flagships and Rexes are the pinnacle of the game, and they are far too close to new players.  Experienced players need something else to do.

Pretty much everything currently in the game, earth, keeps, castles, prehistoric realms… is what I want to be the playground for new players.

Experienced players should be in Space, the Moon, Mars and eventually other planets.  They should be fighting and building space stations not farming wood in the prehistoric.  Grass will be pretty rare in space, so you won’t be able to use Stone Circles to instantly get there.  Uranium will only be found in game, you won’t be able to buy it.  Experienced players should be fighting over Uranium refineries on Mars.  That’s why things feel out of whack at the moment, Ironfell isn’t finished yet!

There are currently 140 units in the game, I just checked my notes for Space… I’ve mapped out 162 ! units for Space.

Remember when you see the Astronaut on the loading screen, that Ironfell isn’t finished yet.



Hey David,

I’m just writing you because I never write you, but I want to be heard around here. I’ve run out of things to exploit, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have suggestions.

My biggest suggestion has to do with player activity and balancing that in the game. I don’t feel that it is a very balanced aspect of the game right now. The problems lately stemmed from an imbalance between players who are active and players who are inactive. The reason it isn’t balanced is because the game does not have enough depth, I’m not talking about size, I mean depth. The way I see it is, there are only two primary objectives in this Ironfell universe. Hold onto and take other islands (for iron and oil). And build, protect, and attack wood farms (for wood). Food, know, and electricity come later, those are a dead giveaway and not complicated to achieve. Both of the main two goals in ironfell revolve around PvP to achieve, so when you’re put against player’s like Falazar (“players like”, others may come along) it’s very hard to compete against someone with that kind of activity on the game. You cannot be online for every attack and it’s not likely you will win in live battle with a very strong player. Doubly so when they have active members to help out. I can only imagine what that is like for smaller players. In my opinion Ironfell needs something else to either occupy more attention from the stronger players or build more mechanics that safeguard the smaller players.

I can only think of two ideas that I can give you that I would expect to balance out the game.

1. Bring back tunnels or some kind of non-permanent resource that can be gathered more safely (aka privacy or seclusion) or in non PvP areas of the game. This allows players who don’t have a lot of time to hold onto resources without needing to defend themselves from bigger players who want to take their lands. They can just hide away or play casually until the bigger players have wasted enough resources fighting each other that it gives them an opportunity to fight back and also not be crushed for giving it a try. I’ve played this tactic in Universe 1.

2. Add higher reward objectives for bigger players. Idk what, but something. Mega mines or something.. mega oil. Some place or thing that bigger players can fight over and compete for to get a high reward. If you can add something worth while enough where the larger players will stay occupied then they will have no choice but to compete for the large player goals and leave the smaller guys alone. Flagships do not do this. Although bigger players do compete to gain them. There is no guarantee it wont be used to slaughter all the noobs. (I think its horribly powerful and should be removed, but that’s not as important) And these ships are just used to complete more of the main objectives I mentioned before, its not creating a new objective.

2 continued. I really don’t know what you could throw in to balance it this way, #1 is a better way. Maybe do really expensive tunnels that cost more than castles, but they would have to have very high resources inside. Players would have to save up A LOT MORE to get to this objective. Instead of dumping everything into getting more land and making more farms. I ‘thought’ this was the point of dino realms, but it only became the new mainstream way of getting wood. And any player could get there… I thought the point would be to give the bigger players space to compete for more important goals, but that’s not the direction the game went. I think you missed your chance for that. So maybe you can do something else. Idk.

You are probably already aware of the other mechanics of the game that Ironfell desperately needs such as Kicking from Alliances, Alliance Ranks, etc. So I’m not going to go into that.

Let me know what you think. I know you’re under a lot of stress with this Falazar buggery, but I just wanted to put my two cents in and make some suggestions. I feel like whatever I say in-game doesn’t ever amount to anything, so here I am sending you an e-mail.


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Speedy Sundays!

10:33am - add a comment!

Speedy Sundays are now a thing. :)

Every Sunday, all day long, from 00:00 to 24:00,  midnight to midnight…  your units move at double speed!

Like everything in Ironfell, its based on New Zealand time.

Here is a neat timezone converter to help you figure out what time that converts to in your timezone:

And yes, this will happen every Sunday! :)




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Ironfell is back online.

4th August 2014 4:51pm - add a comment!

Ironfell is back online.

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