History of Furcadia, the Guinness Record-winning furry MMO, and Q&A with co-creator Dr. Cat
by Patch O'Furr
In the early days of the internet, on dialup BBS’s and the pre-smartphone web, many fans knew they were furry before it had a name. When they logged on to find each other, a home PC became a fantasy portal for instant chatting with other talking animals. It was thrilling because who wants to play a regular human? Some haters treated them as the black sheep of nerds, but looking back, they were the first wave of a major force in the culture.
In the late 1980’s and 90’s, MMOs/MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) popularized internet communities for fun. MMO’s were an evolution with graphics added to text-based MUDs (Multi User Dungeons) and MUCKs; starting in the 1970s, these were often accessed through universities. Some let users build their world, and were significant to early organized furry fandom, like FurryMUCK (1990), Tapestries MUCK (1991), FurToonia (1994), Sociopolitical Ramifications (1994) or TigerMUCK (1994). Eventually World of Warcraft grew to dominate MMO’s with millions of users.
The furry MMO Furcadia was at the front.
- It was founded in 1996 by Dr. Cat (Felorin) and Talzhemir, with many other contributors.
- In its heyday, it was called the largest online furry community (- wikifur) with tens of thousands of users. It was also one of the first freemium online games.
- Dr. Cat (below): “In the 1990s, I feel like I was one of the first people to move, along with the rest of the fledgling new online games and MMO segment of the industry, from a vision of ‘Games as a Product’ to ‘Games as a Service’… Furcadia started out as one of the very first significant scale user created content games in the industry.”
- A 2003 Gamespy article reviewed its part in indie game development, and placing as an award finalist at the Independent Games Festival.
- In 2010, it earned a Guinness World Record for being the longest-running social MMO.
- In 2012, Furcadia raised $106,835 in crowdfunding to develop a full-game overhaul called “Second Dreaming”.
- Weird: years before My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic existed, Furcadia had an MLP environment that had Nazi Ponies vs. a Resistance, to fan regret.
🚨 NEW VIDEO 🚨
Today we explore the history of the rise and unfortunate fall of the world's biggest furry MMORPG, Furcadia.https://t.co/LLImTr7FJA
— Xephas Gracepaws (@XephasGracepaws) May 14, 2021
Thanks to Xephas, a furry fan and Youtuber in England for sending a video about Furcadia’s history. These deep roots are worth digging into more, so I reached out to game co-founder Dr. Cat with questions from Xephas and myself.
(Dogpatch:) Hi Dr. Cat. Let’s go back to the early days when you were just starting. Were you familiar with the range of MUD’s and MMO’s around then?
Yes, both [Furcadia co-creator and game artist] Talzhemir and I played and took inspiration from FurryMUCK and LambdaMOO. I was also on Tapestries and Space Madness, and she played a lot on AmberMUSH. I also was on the MUD-DEV mailing list and learned some important technical things about server programming from there.
Can you say anything about MUD’s and MMO’s helping start online furry fandom?
I do think FurryMUCK was fairly significant in helping the early furry fandom grow, along with conventions, zines, and Yiffnet IRC and the Usenet discussion group alt.fan.furry. Later on, I think Furcadia also did a lot to help grow the fandom, and I think in particular we brought a lot more women into the fandom, which started out initially with more male than female members.
Can we get a bio of your involvement in games and furry, and what are you up to now?
A bio of my involvement in games would be hard to make brief, as I’ve been doing them professionally since I was 17 (started programming games at 14, and invented a few boardgames for fun before that), and I’ve worked on over 50 published games including a number of big hits in a variety of genres.
Furry fandom I discovered through FurryMUCK and then Confurence, the first furry con, and I’ve enjoyed ever since. I still love going to furry cons, and a lot of my friends and families are furries.
I would refer anyone who wants to know more to my five part interview with Matt Barton which is pretty thorough. Matt is a great interviewer who does good research beforehand. The first part is here.
I guess besides just pointing at the Matt Chat interview, I should mention some of my other career highlights among all those games has been working on the Ultima series and Ravenwood Fair, both of which features Dr. Cat as a character, 1Up Casino, and Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money. I also wrote the compression code that’s running in every Fuzzball MUCK to this day, including FurryMUCK, and some of my slot machine code in Everi slot machines is running in almost every major casino in the world.
I’ve been doing game design consulting for the last five years also, which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit, although I don’t always have as much time to work on Furcadia as I’d wish for. If we get our player base growing again, or I make another hit game, I might be able to get back to full-time on it.
Do you have any comments in general about the fandom as a “greymuzzle”, like what it was early on and how it’s changed?
The main thing that’s changed about the fandom is it’s gotten larger. There’s probably a broader range of types of people in it too, by personality types or by any other kinds of categories you could look at. And it’s a lot closer to 50/50 on gender I think, from its early leanings towards way over half male. Which again I like to believe Furcadia played a helpful part in.
There was also a lot more feeling in the early years of “Everyone outside furry fandom thinks we’re a bunch of freaks or losers or perverts or all three”. Which I never believed. I firmly believed in the early years the opinion of 98% of the human race on furry fans was “What’s a furry fan? I never ever heard of that”. And that most of them who did hear about it reacted “Oh, there’s a hobby about that? Shrug whatever.” But the early fandom had a lot of people who were obsessed with the various internet trolls and others who would constantly insult furries. And they convinces themselves that’s what most of humanity thought, when I thought “No, that’s just a few hundred internet trolls and who cares about them”.
Nowadays I think there’s a lower percentage of furries who worry that furries are despised or discriminated against. Some people still feel that way, but it’s not nearly as pervasive and something you hear furries talking about constantly.
It’s funny, even in the early days, there were rumors that “You can’t get a job in the animation industry if you’re known to be a furry”. When the truth of the matter is, one prominent furry animator I know who had worked on The Simpsons and then moved to a job at Disney, he would deliberately look in the furry fandom for promising new artists and animators when they were searching for people to hire, and he ended up hiring several of them.
Rumors spread on what sounds juicy, rather than based on what’s actually true. Always. 😸
Let’s look closer at the video from Xephas. It’s real about Furcadia having a rise and fall of activity, so Xephas added: “I’d like to re-assure him that I don’t hate his game and I appreciate that things take time and that I’m very grateful for everything he’s done for the community.” What do you think of the video?
Regarding the video, I want to say thanks for all the positive and kind comments on Furcadia.
I could mention a couple of minor factual points. For one, the iPhone/iPad Furcadia client was not taken off the app store because of adult content. We coded it to block access to all adult-rated maps. It was kicked off the app store because it had a scripting language, DragonSpeak, and they used to have a “no scripting languages” rule, which they’ve since relaxed. And while the guy at Apple I spoke with agreed that our little “only affects in-game things” language was totally safe, they still had to stick to their rule rather than make exceptions to it.
Secondly, the video mentions that Second Life let you make custom avatars, while Furcadia just lets you change colors. While that’s true on main maps, in player-made dreams, which is the vast majority of the area of the game, you can make your own custom avatars and many players have done so, with a great variety of them out there.
In fact the percentage of artists who can do custom Furcadia avatars (and items, walls, floors, skins, etc) is much higher because it’s easier to use 2D art tools than 3D art tools. The failed Second Life competitor There found that of the player-made art in the game, 99% was 2D textures to apply to t-shirts and other models, and only 1% of it was actual new 3D models.
It also would be nice to mention we updated the game from 8 bit art to 32 bit art, although that’s not really a crucial point. And while we were late on delivering our kickstarter goals, we have delivered the majority of them by now, in addition to other new features besides.
I wish we had a bigger team and/or more resources, but we’ll keep improving the game over time in any case. We may add some new gameplay features to it eventually, using all we’ve learned working with a bunch of successful companies in Facebook and Mobile free-to-play games over the years. 😺
— Furcadia (@furcadia) August 7, 2017
Xephas asks: What is Furcadia’s current roadmap and are there any time estimates? How do you intend on attracting new players?
Our roadmap is to finish testing our update that adds loops and subroutines (aka functions) to DragonSpeak, and to promote our web client especially on smartphones and tablets but just in general as well, and package a version of it as an app for the app stores that launches the web client. Beyond that we have a variety of ideas but we’ll decide later which one to do next.
There are no time estimates right now. I’m actually going to be busy for the next four months on a good paying contract for another game company that I’m very happy about, which will keep me busy on other things till that’s finished. Though I’m going to spend some time working with my new marketing volunteer.
Which answers part of the question of how I intend to attract new players. I have ALWAYS wanted someone with professional marketing experience on the team, and never had someone until now. She’s just got her PhD in the sciences, but she did professional marketing work back in New York in the past and is just generally one of the smartest people I ever met in my life. She discovered Furcadia when she was 15 and tells me it was a huge positive influence on her.
Also the fact that having the web client that can work on iOS, Android, Macintosh, Linux, and anything else with a web browser means that rather than just Windows PC owners, we can now potentially reach a couple billion smartphone owners and others who don’t have Windows machines, people who were never potential players we could reach before.
Hopefully starting out with a guerilla marketing campaign we can start growing again, and then maybe if that generates some more sales we can put some of that into additional marketing like buying some ads to play in mobile games or on websites. But this time with a results-based marketing expert deciding where to place it.
Xephas asks: Where do you see the game in 10 years time?
As for ten years from now…
In the 1990s, I feel like I was one of the first people to move, along with the rest of the fledgling new online games and MMO segment of the industry, from a vision of “Games as a Produce” to “Games as a Service”. That was a fine step forward for the 1990s. But now…
I’ve had a vision for a long time of transitioning Furcadia from “Games as a service” to “Games as a platform”. And while I’ve been too slow and understaffed to focus on that shift, I’ve seen games like Roblox go that way, to some extent Minecraft, and now Tim Sweeney is talking about Fortnite becoming a Metaverse and it has Creative Mode in it. And Raph Koster is working in this direction with his new startup as well.
I’ve met both Raph, and Tim Sweeney near the start of their careers, they’ve both had this kind of vision for a long time and are really bright guys.
Furcadia started out as one of the very first significant scale user created content games in the industry. But we didn’t take that nearly as far as user-content companies like YouTube, Twitch, etc. We need to build ways that a higher percentage of our players can create meaningful content without needing advanced skills like being an artist or programmer.
I would love to have a few different styles of game engines built-in like puzzle games, match 3, something like Boulderdash, etc. that any player could make levels for or whole sets of levels that were an entire game, with scripting and very high customizability. And provide ways people can make money making that content for other players.
I also want to get voice chat and video chat into the game, but make them not just “ways to chat with friends you already have”, but “ways to make new friends”, which is the secret ingredient I think most voice chat and video chat apps in the world are lacking.
I’d also like to do a spectator mode, something I’ve wanted since day one of Furcadia, and I’ve watched the rise of Twitch TV and eSports and even YouTUBE “Let’s play” videos. And I’m glad the trend has arrived but disappointed I didn’t get in on the cutting edge of that one. We did lead the way on Freemium and user-built worlds and were one of the first large games with a more than half female player base, so I’ve gotten to innovate in a few things in my day, but I’d like to get back on the cutting edge in a few of the things that may be coming up next in gaming too. I have most of my nine lives left still. 😺
Any words of wisdom to close with?
As for words of wisdom, apart from encouraging people to develop their creativity and pursue their dreams, I’d point people to the quote I put in Furcadia as an easter egg. “Dr. Cat says, Live in your hopes, not in your fears.”
Our society has a real divide now between people and institutions that try to play up people’s fears in order to get money and/or power, and those that think we can make a better world all working together, and focus on hopes as their way of getting people and resources to their cause instead.
So what started out in my mind as just advice on how an individual can try to live a more successful, productive, and happy life, just from my own experience about what focused and motivated me better… Now that seems to have morphed into a struggle for control of society itself.
Some of that may be inevitable when you shift from one Era of mankind to the next. We saw some of it when we shifted from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age, with the Luddites, revolutionary wars happening in most major countries, etc.
We’re seeing it again in the shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, which has brought societies a ton of growing pains.
So live in your hopes, not in your fears! 😺
Thanks for all this!
Mrrrrelcome! I’m a rather talkative tabby. 😉
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