You can play Vortelli’s Pizza on Poki!
The Making Of
I’ve always liked the idea of creating experiences for the web. Nowadays, almost every mobile and desktop device has a web browser and visitors can experience your creation without the friction of downloading and installing a separate app. Prior to creating Vortelli’s, I dabbled with tools like Three.js, Phaser and Construct, but I never actually completed a project. I kept falling into the cycle of starting a project with excitement and motivation but as I’d encounter problems, I’d gradually lose interest and eventually quit.
I spent the majority of my time figuring out how to get the multiplayer netcode working. At first, the prototype game didn’t have any sort of goal or objective, it was just an open world where you could hang out with other players. Maybe it was because I’m a solo dev, but I started to feel that players would quickly become bored with this experience. Some kind of minigame needed to be added to give players a sense of purpose. I went with a pizza cooking minigame because everyone loves pizza, right? I chose the name ‘Vortelli’s Pizza,’ because it sounds like the name of a somewhat believable pizza shop and I couldn’t find any real life businesses on Google using that name already.
After having spent well over a year working on this game by myself, I had no idea if it was any good. I had done some small-scale play testing with friends and family and I still had a long list of things that I wanted to add and improve. I was starting to feel burnt out and I decided that I just had to force myself to release it as-is. I knew I could always keep working on it after launch if players were enjoying it. And if nobody liked the game, at the very least, I’d learn some lessons I could apply to my next game idea.
Within the first week after release, it received a small amount of attention from Twitter and the PlayCanvas forums. Marketing and promoting a game is really difficult and requires a specialized skill set which I didn’t have. At first, I didn’t even consider looking for a publisher because I assumed publishers were only for Steam games that people paid money for. At some point, I stumbled upon Poki’s developer page. I didn’t know much about them so I looked them up on a site called SimilarWeb which was estimating Poki’s monthly US traffic at around 70 million visits. This was a mind-boggling number, and the fact that Poki was offering to handle all the marketing made me strongly consider working with them. After I read the Medium article about Cem Demir and ONRUSH Studio’s experience with Poki, I finally decided to reach out.
I wasn’t sure if I’d receive a response from the Poki team, but I still sent them a link to Vortelli’s just to see what would happen. When they responded, I was absolutely delighted to learn that the Poki team spent a significant amount of time playing my game together and they loved it! It was a wonderful feeling to learn that real players in a different part of the world who I’ve never met found my game fun and engaging. Within a few days, we signed a contract and over the next few weeks, I worked with Poki to integrate their API and monetize the game.
At the end of August 2022, Vortelli’s moved into the soft launch phase. This was my first time launching a game at scale and I had no idea what to expect. On the first day, my eyes were glued to the stats dashboard and I kept checking my game server logs over and over. I didn’t get much actual work done that day! The player count peaked at 12 on the first day of soft launch.
The next day, I noticed a worrying netcode bug and players were starting to leave angry reviews complaining they couldn’t click on anything in the game. After hours of stressful debugging, I found an issue with my netcode where players with low-spec devices were sometimes getting desynced from the server and weren’t able to interact with objects in the game world. In a mild panic, I managed to implement and deploy a fix but unfortunately that was just the start of my problems.
The next morning I was woken up around 4:30am by a notification that all the servers were completely full. At this point I had two servers, one in Dallas USA and another in Frankfurt Germany, each capable of supporting 40 players. At first, I thought this was a bug and maybe departing players weren’t getting disconnected correctly. Unsure, I created two more servers and within minutes they were also completely full. Vortelli’s somehow had 160 players online! I kept creating new servers and they seemed to be filling up as quickly as I could launch them. This was not a bug, Vortelli’s had been featured on the front page of Poki Brazil and there were thousands of new players finding the game. I believe Poki’s system automatically moves games with strong user engagement to the front page.
Eventually the player count settled down. I knew I couldn’t wake up at 4:30 every morning to manage servers so I got to work on automating the server scaling. I used Linode’s API to automatically create new servers as the player count increases and then automatically shut them down as the player count decreases. This process was far more complex than I expected and I didn’t get it right on my first try. There was at least one occasion when I accidentally shut down servers with players still on them. My apologies if you were one of them.
Over the next few weeks, I worked to fix bugs and implement some new features. There were all kinds of helpful suggestions from the Poki team and the PlayCanvas community. The soft launch period lasted about two months during which Vortelli’s was played 1.1 million times.
On November 10, 2022, Vortelli’s Pizza was released globally. I noticed a bump in traffic almost immediately. The player count peaked at around 400 concurrent players on the first day. The next day, it was 1,400 concurrent players and the day after that, 2,800. Vortelli’s was quickly moving up the ranks and was now displayed at the top of the Poki homepage. I had dreamed of one day seeing Vortelli’s high up on the Poki homepage near Subway Surfers and Crossy Road. I didn’t really think that was a strong possibility, but there it was!
There were so many new players the servers were having trouble keeping up. I had to upgrade my matchmaking server twice because its CPU kept reaching its limit which would cause long connection delays for players. Twice, I had to contact my hosting company, Linode, to get my account limit increased. Initially, my account was only allowed to operate 50 servers at a time and I needed a lot more. Linode kindly raised the limit to 100, but by the next day, I was already running 92 servers to keep all the players online. Fortunately, they raised it to 200 and I implemented some changes to allow more players on each server, thus not requiring as many.
The first week after global launch felt like a blur. As of the time of writing, Vortelli’s Pizza has been played over 7 million times and the highest recorded concurrent player count is 3,035! I expect the player count to settle down over the coming weeks and months. Almost every waking hour has been spent watching server logs, reading user feedback, and implementing fixes. It has been a challenging time, but I’ve found it immensely rewarding.
Currently, I’m working on fixing bugs and improving the game’s UI. I was definitely not expecting Vortelli’s to receive this many players and for this reason, there are a few things that aren’t working as well as they could be. For example, the custom games table is practically unusable at the moment because it’s filled with hundreds of games in random order. I’m going to redesign it to make it more user friendly. For players who are sick of randoms stealing their pizzas, I’m going to add the ability to play a solo game by pressing a single button. I’m also going to set up a Discord server so I can communicate with the players and allow a place for people to submit their ideas for new game content.
It’s safe to say that the global launch of Vortelli’s has significantly exceeded my expectations. I’m eager to get to know the newly created Vortelli’s community. I’m really excited to see where this game will go. I still have a lot to learn, but it’s pretty thrilling to imagine all the new experiences I can create for people to enjoy.