What happened to SmallWorlds?

SmallWorlds was a social network service and virtual online world that was created by New Zealand-based company Outsmart Games. The platform, which was created by Mitch Olson and Darren Green, was free to play and ran on Flash within web browsers.

SmallWorlds was released on 1 December 2008 and reached seven million users by 2016. Two years later, it was announced via Twitter that SmallWorlds would be shutting down.

Financial difficulties

The first signs of financial trouble arose in 2015 when SmallWorlds held an event to increase purchases from the online store and also of Gold and VIP memberships. The company claimed that due to a shrinking audience, it was finding it difficult to meet server running costs.

Unfortunately, the company failed to meet its fundraising target for the event. On a Reddit FAQ page, the co-founders essentially admitted defeat: “We needed to see a wider gamut of support beyond the regulars which frequent our Store. Relying further on less-than-5% of supporting players was not going to work for us going-forward.”

A lack of financial interest in the game was compounded by the rising cost of server maintenance. Since SmallWorlds was based in New Zealand, it was at the mercy of unfavorable currency exchange rates. Ultimately, the increase in server costs outpaced the increase in users and the survival of the company became a very simple equation.

Mobile games

After the game was shut down in 2018, Olson and Green also acknowledged that a lot had changed within the industry in the previous decade. 

The shift toward mobile-based platforms and other forms of entertainment was one contributing factor, with SmallWorlds only available on desktops. When Adobe Flash was flagged for removal from web standards, this only made the problem worse.

Rebirth

In December 2018 a prototype based on the original SmallWorlds platform was released. Dubbed TownCenter, the prototype served as an experiment to determine how much the user community could grow and support a viable business. The app is currently unavailable for download in the App Store.

On February 27, 2022, a new platform called Smallworlds Rewritten (SWR) was announced. The new iteration is not affiliated with Outsmart Games, instead developed by a team of ex-SmallWorlds players and moderators. It is scheduled for release later in 2022.

Key takeaways:

  • SmallWorlds was a social network service and virtual online world that was created by New Zealand-based company Outsmart Games in 2008. Despite a user base of 7 million in 2016, the platform was shut down two years later.
  • Financial trouble was made public in 2015 when SmallWorlds held an event to raise money to keep its servers running. A shift toward mobile-based gaming and an announcement concerning the end of Adobe Flash did not help the company’s cause. Ultimately, SmallWorlds was not sustainable because server maintenance costs outpaced growth in the user base.
  • On February 27, 2022, a new platform called Smallworlds Rewritten (SWR) was announced. Created by a team of ex SmallWorlds players and moderators, it is scheduled for release later this year. 

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