History of IncrediBotsWritten and researched by EMDF
Back in early 2008, Ryan Clark had an idea. At the time, he was employed by a small company in Vancouver known as "Grubby Games". This idea started out as just a thought, What if we made a physics game? Grubby Games at this point had never created a physics game. They had created a few games here and there that employed basic physics, but nothing that explored the field of physics. As Ryan researched the feasibility of this idea, he saw potential. Once he saw this potential, he gave it to his four-man crew to work on. For months, they worked on this idea, turning it into a reality.
Once Grubby Games created a prototype, they shared it privately with the few users they knew well, on Halloween 2008. They got feedback, and saw that there was interest, so they continued to work on it. A week and a half later, on November 10, 2008, they released it publicly. Some of the big-time gaming sites reviewed IncrediBots within a couple of days of its release. Then, the unexpected happened: IncrediBots went viral.
Their servers (and forums) were flooded with traffic from new users, and they could barely keep up. Their only source of income from IncrediBots was advertisements, and the pure bandwidth started sucking off their overall profits. Thankfully, they had enough funds left to plan a way out of their piling bills. But time was still running out for them. Something had to change, and fast.
After looking at their options, they decided to purchase a $10,000 server that could handle all the traffic, and wouldn't "hiccup" when overloaded. They purchased the server, and put it into use on November 26, 2008. Things started running smoothly again, and in the following two days, they fixed a couple of bugs. Then, as more and more sites started reviewing and hosting IncrediBots, their traffic increased. After reviewing their options for the next week, they decided on Amazon.com's AWS servers. This would allow them to pay someone else to take care of the servers, while also preventing them from having to buy more servers.
On December 5, 2008, they started migrating to the new server. There was a lot of data that had to be moved, and very carefully, so it took them ten days to fully migrate the servers. This was a (mostly) unattended process, so they had time to think about their options once more. Their bills were still piling up, and switching to AWS wasn't going to solve it. They had to figure out how to regain their lost income, utilizing the popularity IncrediBots brought them. Christmas was only 10 days away, and opportunity was knocking. Now they had to answer the door and convince opportunity that they were ready to give him a new home. But how?
The IncrediBots crew had three unimplemented features that were pretty far into production: thrusters, resizing, and mirroring. Before they added them, they thought to themselves, How can this solve our money problems? Then the epiphany struck: they could charge for those features, while keeping IncrediBots free. The team quickly went to work creating an IncrediBots Gold program, purchasing a new domain name and making the necessary changes for it to work. Those that were a part of the Gold program would be called "supporters", and their status was signified in the forums as such. They would receive these new features, and they would not see any advertisements. Those that were not part of the Gold program would have a link in their forum posts to a site where you could "sponsor" them, and they were unable to edit anything with thrusters in it, nor were they able to use mirroring or scaling.
On December 19, 2008, the team released the IncrediBots Gold program. It was an immediate success, and with it a lot of revenue was generated. Their costs were still high, but they were finally making a profit again, however minor. Later that day, they fixed some minor bugs with the new features. Finally getting IncrediBots under control, they went on their Christmas holidays and spent well-deserved time with their families. Christmas only brought more revenue as children asked their parents for supporterships for Christmas, and their parents gave it to them. All was well, and there wasn't anything that could change that.
Turning over a new leaf
In the first few months of 2009, things were going very smoothly. No major complaints to speak of, finances were good, and IB had minimal problems at best. Grubby Games decided now was time to up the ante. The changes they had in mind were drastic, requiring a complete overhaul of IncrediBots. But they didn't want to touch IncrediBots as it was in such a drastic manner. So they decided on making a second IncrediBots, dubbed "IncrediBots 2". During this happy time with not much else going on, they worked on it, adding completely new features unheard of in the IncrediBots world.
Grubby Games was still having some financial difficulty, and they didn't get a chance to thoroughly test IncrediBots 2. So they came up with the idea to put IncrediBots 2 into a "private beta", whereupon supporters would be able to test out IncrediBots 2 early and see all the excellent features, while Grubby Games would get valuable feedback to fix bugs. They also ensured that every user who bought a supportership on the day the IncrediBots Gold program premiered would not have any period where they were unable to access IncrediBots 2 by releasing it publicly on June 19, 2009 -- exactly six months after IncrediBots Gold premiered.
Not only did this let them fix bugs before they became too widespread, but is also provided another incentive to purchase a supportership, which provided them more profit. Then they added cannons, providing yet another incentive to purchase a supportership. It was a very good marketing move on their part, but IncrediBots going viral had dug themselves a deep enough hole that they were still underground. Although the company had survived the dropkick to their finances, they had to somehow start fresh. But how?
Wiping the slate clean
On April 30, 2009, Big Fish Games acquired Grubby Games. No longer did Grubby Games have to make up their losses -- they just had to keep from going in the red again. Considering that if you disregarded the first month and a half of IncrediBots going public, they were well in the green, this didn't seem like an unreasonable request. They had truly started fresh, and could continue to work on IncrediBots without any worries.
But there was a catch: Big Fish Games specialized in games you could download, and IncrediBots was the only game owned by Big Fish Games that was internet-based. The same was true for Grubby Games, except they had learned how to work with an internet-based game, and had done so for almost half a year. So Big Fish Games let them work on IncrediBots, at least until they felt IncrediBots 2 could be released to the public.
In the month and a half after the acquisition, the IncrediBots crew released four versions of IncrediBots 2, and also released one version of IncrediBots 1 to allow transferring of bots from the old version to the new version. Everything was once again operating smoothly, and IncrediBots at this point was released to the public. A week later, they fixed various bugs. Then Big Fish Games told them to stop working on IncrediBots altogether unless it was absolutely necessary. But why?
Changing with the times
The answer was simple: IncrediBots required a lot of resources, but didn't produce a lot of revenue. In the end, it provided a profit, which was minimal at best. Big Fish Games knew that unless the IncrediBots crew produced a third version, and they had only just released their second version to the public, there would be diminishing returns, and the profits would soon become losses as users lost interest in IncrediBots. It was only a matter of time before something had to give.
Big Fish Games saw opportunity in the Grubby Games brand of games, and instead wanted the IncrediBots crew to work on the downloadable games instead of the internet-based IncrediBots. They knew there was a much higher profit margin to be had if they worked that way, and compared to the paper-thin profit margin that IncrediBots had, making that decision wasn't rocket science. Unfortunately, this also meant that the IncrediBots community slowly dwindled.
The beginning of the end
The IncrediBots community was flourishing from the day it went viral to the day IncrediBots 2 was released. This trend continued for weeks after IncrediBots 2 was released to the public, and a change to the featuring system on July 6, 2009 helped this. But just like IncrediBots 1, users were slowly losing interest to IncrediBots 2. This was most likely due in part to the lack of updates, which showed that Big Fish Games had lost interest in IncrediBots, which in turn made the users feel that IncrediBots was starting to be abandoned. It was this abandonment that was the final nail in the coffin.
Right around this time, all Big Fish Games employees seemed to vanish from the forums entirely, only being reachable via email. New forum administrators had been initiated just days before, on July 2, 2009. Big Fish Games seemed to want nothing to do with IncrediBots other than keep what little profit it provided. In fact, the update on August 12, 2009 was only added after an email was sent to a member of the IncrediBots crew, and it simply fixed a bug with featuring.
The longer IncrediBots went without any attention paid to it, the more Big Fish Games realized it was starting to suck the income away from them. It literally became a burden on them, and as much as the community felt otherwise, there really was no way for any company to make IncrediBots work. It had too many bills and not enough income. As time went on, the percentage of the community that had purchased a supportership got higher and higher. But with 6 months before it expired, this only meant a lower and lower percentage of potential customers. It was only a matter of time before the foundation collapsed beneath them.
In late 2009, Big Fish Games discovered the forums. Employees not a part of the IncrediBots crew settled in, and although the forum staff had greeted them as IncrediBots finally getting the attention it deserved, they were not welcomed by the rest of the community. There was much conflict between them and the forums, and it wasn't long before even the forum staff saw them as unwelcome visitors.
Big Fish Games of course had to comply with COPPA if they wanted to let users under the age of 18 browse the forums. Since estimates at the time were that over 90% of the forum users were under the age of 18, they had no other choice; if they wanted IncrediBots to last until the end of the month, they needed to comply with COPPA. This naturally caused much unrest in the forums, and started massive conflict between the forum and Big Fish Games, until their managers saw they were following all the laws they needed to follow, and instructed them to leave the site entirely. After that, the only involvement Big Fish Games employees had with the forums was a thread in the forum staff area that dealt with COPPA.
The end is nigh
After Big Fish Games had left the forums entirely, IncrediBots' history was uneventful, until mid-April 2010, when the company Big Fish Games used for supporterships suddenly stopped selling them. No one, not even the forum administrators, knew what happened. There was speculation about an expired contract that for one reason or another Big Fish Games didn't renew, or was in the process of renewing. Nothing was known for certain until April 23-24, 2010, where a couple of the forum administrators contacted Big Fish Games about the issue to see what the problem was.
They had a conference call, whereupon Big Fish Games told the forum administrators about what their true intentions were -- they wanted to shut down IncrediBots right then and there. But the IncrediBots crew had made their case that such a situation wasn't a good idea. In the call, Big Fish Games did a little "fact finding" to see if the forum administrators would be willing to purchase the game for $1. They of course said they would be more than willing to do such, and after further discussion, Big Fish Games decided they needed to rethink the whole thing.
Since supporterships could no longer be purchased, the users knew something was amiss. There was no way they could fabricate a lie about why this was and run with it on their own. They had preemptively canceled the supportership system, mistakenly thinking that it was all coming to an end in the very near future. But now that they were reconsidering, the cat was out of the bag, and something had to be done about it. Seeing the restlessness of the forum users, the forum administrators decided to use the excuse that the contract between Grubby Games and the company that handed out the supporterships had expired, and they needed to rewrite the contract. They even to some extent got Big Fish Games employees to go along with this idea.
As days turned into weeks, and as weeks turned into months, the "expired contract" excuse was sounding less and less believable. Quoting actual emails (albeit somewhat out of context), the forum administrators now used the excuse that Big Fish Games had higher priorities than to get the supportership system up and running again, and thus were not intending on shutting IncrediBots down. To the users, this was the most plausible thing they had heard, and since actual emails were quoted, it seemed official, even if no Big Fish Games employee came out and said it. Everyone seemed to accept that excuse without argument.
Used car salesman
While all this was happening, Big Fish Games had discreetly put IncrediBots up for sale without using its name in these sale listings. They tried to find someone, anyone, that would take IncrediBots under its wing and give it the attention it needed. In essence, they were like a used car salesman, selling a piece of junk and passing of its problems to you. But in this case, a smaller company with smaller pay grades could handle IncrediBots financially better than a large company with large pay grades, since less of the profit would go to the workers. Even from a name like Big Fish Games, no one wanted to risk it, especially considering the world economy was taking a nosedive.
Big Fish Games kept IncrediBots on the market for several months. They wanted desperately to sell it to someone else so that it could be kept alive and it wouldn't be a burden on them much longer. News was promised to the forum administrators time and time again throughout this time period, but the date of delivery kept being pushed back. First it was in July. Then mid-August. Then the 1st of September. Then mid-September.
The final verdict
In early September, one of the forum staff, who was not aware that IncrediBots was originally going to be shut down, got so fed up, he wrote a letter addressed to the company president. Before he sent it, another forum staff member, who also was unaware of IncrediBots' future, added more content to it, until the letter was one and a half single-spaced pages long. The forum administrators knew that if the letter was sent, it would not end well, so they told these staff members that they would work on it a bit more and then send it. Instead, they sent it to one of the IncrediBots crew in mid-September telling them that the users are once again getting restless.
The employee read the letter, and realized enough was enough, so he decided to be proactive and find out what was really going on. When he did, he discovered that Big Fish Games had again made the decision to shut IncrediBots down. They saw no other option than to put an end to IncrediBots. Seeing his brainchild and everything made with it being put in the gallows, he convinced Big Fish Games to let him make it open source. This would let everyone keep their creations, would keep IncrediBots alive and well, and would allow anyone to make any modifications they wanted to it, keeping the community alive.
The news was passed on to the forum administrators, and the IncrediBots crew quickly got to work adding an import/export feature so that all of the IncrediBots creations could be backed up via .txt files on their creators' computers. The forum administrators started re-creating a fresh start of the forums from scratch, using the little time they had to get the forums ready for the new users. They put these forums on a brand new domain, and sacrificed their own personal time to get everything done that needed to be done. Pretty soon, these forums would get populated with users migrating from the old forums, and they needed to be ready.
The rush to perfection
After a few weeks, on October 20, 2010, the IncrediBots crew debuted the import/export feature they had been working on, and wrote an announcement in the old forums notifying all the users what was going on, directing the users to the new forums. There were in-game notices as well. Now the rush was on for the IncrediBots crew to get IncrediBots ready for open source, working countless hours getting the job done.
The users were also in a rush to export and save everything they had to .txt files. Not only this, but since there were hundreds of featured creations, all those had to be backed up as well. Ultimately, the forum staff got the job done, and afterward the cavalry was brought in to ensure everything worked properly. Some things didn't work, and other things were skipped entirely, so those problems were fixed before the servers were shut down for good.
A few days before IncrediBots was shut down for good, a project was made on Sourceforge under the name "IncrediBots", and the forum administrators were assigned to the project. They quickly got to work ensuring everything was set up properly for the release, adding screenshots, setting up the Feature Request and Bug Report trackers, creating the project logo, and submitting entries to the trackers. Then, on November 19, 2010, the servers were shut down for good and open source versions were uploaded to the Sourceforge page. The rush was finally over, and now the forum administrators could put the control over the project that they always wanted to.
California, here we come
Two of the forum administrators, jayther and pokeybit, took control over IncrediBots' development, and fixed some bugs just five days after it became open source, on November 24, 2010. The precompiled version was unaffected by these bugs, so the fixes were in the source code only. Around this time, jayther figured out how to compile IncrediBots using all-free tools.
After posting a guide, he made the first modification to IncrediBots since its open source release six days later, on November 30, 2010. This release fixed problems in importing and exporting certain challenges, removed the code that tried to communicate with the now-defunct Amazon.com AWS servers, fixed the cursor bug in the pre-compiled form, and added a new logo and various other text to signify the release's new name: "Jaybit Edition" (which stands for Jayther and pokeybit Edition).
Then, just three days before Christmas, on December 22, 2010, a new Jaybit version was released, which added the ability to use actual files, while preserving the ability to export and import code; re-enabled uneditable creations; added a shape counter; added an "Import and insert" menu option to compliment the "Load and insert" menu option; allowed for the conversion between files and code; and added a version checking system that would only accept files and code if they were from an equivalent or lower version, so that when new features were added, you could be sure that it would work in all cases.
What lies ahead
Development continues on IncrediBots, and will continue for months, and probably years, to come. Many of us work on IncrediBots or the forums in our spare time already, and those of us that do not directly add to the project still provide valuable input, ideas, and sometimes prototypes to help things along. But like many good open-source projects, IncrediBots will at some point stop official development. We hope to delay this as long as possible, and to keep the community alive for as long as possible. However, there will be some point where the community will dwindle down to a select few and those of us that are involved in the project will have to part ways, ultimately stopping work on IncrediBots.
But as long as there's an active interest in IncrediBots, we will try to keep it alive and provide updates as we feel are necessary. Who knows, there might be a day where IncrediBots, much like Garry's Mod™, will provide a steady source of income and allow us to work full time on it, providing updates and having a huge community behind it. We have no idea what the future holds for us or for IncrediBots, but we hope it's a good one.
None of the above statements have been officially confirmed except where dated, but are assumed to be true based on administrator-only information. Until one of the two members of the IncrediBots crew that has been there for IncrediBots' entire lifespan posts a detailed history, this should be considered as accurate as it gets. It's not an "official" history, but the author of this article has been with IncrediBots since November 2008, and was one of the three original administrators initiated on July 2, 2009. Facts stated throughout this article are based on emails, forum posts, private message communications, and development log entries, only the latter of which was 100% publicly accessible. Some of this information, notably Big Fish Games' reasoning, is speculation partially backed up by the sources of the aforementioned facts, so it cannot be guaranteed fully accurate.