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Planning a Renaissance - How we plan to grow the Royal Game of Ur

In September of this year I quit my job, moved to London and began burning my savings so that I can work on RoyalUr.net full-time. And I am loving it!

Only a few months into our journey, we've already hit a record with over 15,000 unique visitors in October, and we've successfully rolled out a full website redesign! One of our users even called the redesign “legit”, so I think I have finally made it.

But why on earth would anyone do something so irresponsible? RoyalUr.net makes no money, our audience is modest in size, and there’s no short & easy path to being profitable. It really comes down to one, simple truth.

The Royal Game of Ur brings people together.

Two hands reaching out to touch the Royal Game of Ur.
Two people coming together to play the Royal Game of Ur (1508 AD).

I may slam the table while playing the game, kick myself after missing a key move, or get mad after my opponent gets the exact rolls they need every single time! And yet, this game has given me the opportunity to hang out with the most welcoming, supportive, and passionate group I have ever been a part of.

I published my first ever paper with Diego about the maths of the Royal Game of Ur. I have spent a lot of time simulating games and competing to make the best AI with Raph. James has introduced me to the intricacies of board game history. I witnessed people adding “Ur” to the end of every word (thanks monomino). I perfected our new UI design with Kapfab and Mr. Carrot. I have even managed to defeat Arthur, the two-time tournament champion!

This has really meant a lot to me.

And all of this and more is why I am excited every day to work on building RoyalUr.net. I believe strongly in the Royal Game of Ur. I believe it is a great game for building connection and relaxing. I believe it can be the basis for amazing communities. I believe it can lead to competition that is uplifting. Ultimately, I believe it can be so much more than “just” a really fun game! And that is why I am willing to burn my money to work on it!

The Vision

A couple years ago, I wrote three goals for RoyalUr.net:

  1. Provide the most fun place for people to play the Royal Game of Ur online!
  2. Work to help the community behind the game flourish.
  3. Promote learning history in an engaging way.

These goals represent the unique attributes that I believe our small website can provide to the vast landscape that is the Royal Game of Ur. This all culminates in the following values:

Fun before competition.
Community before reach.
History before novelty.

These values, inspired by the vows of the Knight's Radiant in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive, encapsulate what I believe RoyalUr.net can become. They point out what we stand for, as well as what we don't. We will aim to leave the serious competition to the société internationale d'UR, to prioritise the members who have stuck with us, and to share the history of the game without exaggerating.

The Growth of Ur

So far in 2023, our community Discord reached 1000 members and there have been 165 thousand games played on RoyalUr.net, with December still to go! The Tom Scott vs. Irving Finkel YouTube video hit 7 million views, which has massively grown the game. The société internationale d'UR was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by MIT Visiting Professor Wasalu Jaco, and since then they have run 10 real-life tournaments.

I hope that we can continue to accelerate this growth into the future! This means that we must build! The short-term roadmap for what we plan to build is given below. This roadmap primarily aims to improve our retention of users by making our product better!

Short-Term Roadmap

#1.
Website
Overhaul
(Complete!)
Screenshot where the left shows the old design, and the right shows the new
  • Rewrote the website’s code from the ground up.
  • Vastly improved mobile support 📱
  • Introduced the new Masters and Blitz rule sets.
  • Completed on the 29th of November!
Imagined image of a user accounts interface.
#2.
User
Accounts
  • Know who you're playing!
  • Track your progress & achievements 🏆
  • Implement leaderboards.
#3.
Messages &
Reactions
Imagined image of reactions and messages.
  • Communicate while you play!
  • Show your feelings through emoji responses 🥳

How we plan to fund this

Up until this point, RoyalUr.net has been primarily funded through my savings. I think this has been worth it! However, to grow the site into a sustainable adventure, we will need to introduce some monetisation to the website. This scares me, but I am confident that we can come to a solution that is positive, rather than detrimental, to the game!

We have begun an experimental affiliate deal with Masters Traditional Games. I have personally met James Masters and visited Masters Traditional Games, so I am confident that this is promoting a reputable business!

There are also a few other options that we have been considering related to the game:

  • Offer options to customize the appearance of your game that can be bought, or earned through watching ads. I hope to commission different artists to create unique boards and pieces for this!
  • Offer additional features alongside the game, such as game analysis, puzzles, or lessons. We would need to make sure that we can make something that would be good enough that it is worth the price!

Primarily, I wish to make it clear that we will never restrict or affect gameplay based on whether someone pays or not. The Royal Game of Ur will always remain free-to-play!

It is my hope that these methods will help us to turn RoyalUr.net into a sustainable business, rather than a money sink! This will allow me to continue to run and improve the website into the future as we all add to the vast history of the Royal Game of Ur! It's been around for 4500 years already, why not another 4500! However, if you think any monetisation features would negatively impact the game, I’d love to hear your feedback as well!

Ko-Fi ☕

I believe that RoyalUr.net can be self-sustainable in the long-term. However, it is unlikely that we will reach that point soon. And that is perfectly okay! I am here to play the long game.

However, if you would like to help support the development and hosting of the site before we get to that point, I have created a Ko-Fi page where you can help me out. All of the money that we receive will go straight back into the hosting and development of this website, so that hopefully we can reach our vision in a more timely manner! I'd also like to extend another big thank you to everyone that has supported me in the past!

Conclusion

There’s a lot of work to do, but with your help, I think we can make an amazing site for the Royal Game of Ur! If you'd like to help out, are interested in research for the game, or just want to find someone to play against, I encourage everyone to join our Discord! As much as I love the Royal Game of Ur, our Discord community has been the biggest reason for my continued interest in the game over the last five years. I wouldn't be here without you all!

If you're new to the game, you can give it a go here!

Thank you everyone,
~ Paddy L.

A photo of Paddy Lamont doing a thumbs up.
A photo of me, Paddy, getting ready to write some more software!